Monday, March 28, 2016

Taking the Low Road: Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

Don't worry, I have no intention of boring anyone with yet another take on True Detective.  Enough has been said about that one-  at least the first season- and how it was influenced by the likes of Thomas Ligotti and E.M. Cioran.  And I have little interest in adding to the babble.  I've enough on my plate at the moment- the after-effects of a downpour of water from the flat above, health issues, etc.. Suffice it to say that when the going gets tough, the not-so- tough turn to crime fiction. In this case, Galveston by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. It's been some six years since its publication, which makes it even older ground to go over than True Detective.  Luckily, I'm not someone who feels they have to fight off the competition to deliver their mots justes on the latest publication. Though it is true that I've been meaning to get to Galveston for some time now.

That Galveston managed to take my mind off things- whether that's its purpose or not is another matter- is, at this moment, high praise. After all, sometimes, when fate is dogging your ass, the best you can do is take cover and hope for the best. Which, in one way or another, is a theme that Pizzolatto's novel dances around. Firmly in that noir tradition of doomed men and fallen and abused women that goes back to Jim Thompson's The Getaway and Elliott Chaze's Black Wings Has My Angel (see my review of Chaze's book here), Pizzolatto's novel, perhaps not as complex but equally engaging, focuses on bag-man Roy Cady. It opens with Cady discovering he has cancer, after which he's sent by his boss, who unfortunately has also stolen his woman, on a deadly errand to a New Orleans apartment where he's meant to apply some necessary muscle. Things turn sour, but Cady survives, escaping with Rocky, a young sexy prostitute, whom he finds cowering in the apartment.  Roy, a "do your own time" type of guy,  ends up driving from New Orleans to Galveston with Rocky and her three year old "sister," seeking sanctuary if not solace.  Pizzolatto's narrative is set up in such a way that the reader knows something bad, that is other than  cancer will eventually happen to Cady, though that will come as no surprise to any dedicated reader of noir fiction. Facing death, Cady becomes more introspective than your usual bag-man. However, he does his best to not let his thoughts get the better of him: "I remember a buddy of mine once telling me that every woman you loved was a mother and sister you didn't have, at once, and that what you were always really looking for was  the female part of yourself, you female animal or something. This guy could get away with saying something like that because he was a junkie and read books." Despite his past, Cady  does his best to resist temptation, specifically Rocky. With a metaphorical gun pointed at his head, Cady finds his world is partly dictated by fate and partly of his own making. Eventually he realises he has the capacity to create  his own narrative:  "When I read I got involved in the words and what they were saying so that I didn't measure the passing of time in typical ways. I was surprised to learn that there was this freedom made of nothing but words. Then I felt like I had missed some crucial point, a long time ago."

Roy stares into the abyss with such gusto that he took me back to when I first began to read  noir fiction, and why I was attracted to it.  Not only  The Getaway and Black Wings... and  Dan J. Marlowe's The Name of the Game is Death, but right on up to  present day narratives by the likes of James Sallis and now Nic Pizzolatto. Moreover, I can't help but speculate on how and why one gravitates to certain books at certain times. Perhaps to divert is to heal. As Roy Cady says early on in Galveston, "I read a writer who said that stories save us, but, of course, that's bullshit. They don't. But stories do save something..."


Gary Deane said...

One of my favorite crime novels of recent years. I had such great hopes for Pizzolatto's involvement in the True Dectective series which turned out, at least for me, to be a big disappointment. But at least we still have Galveston.

JJ Stickney said...

Ditto, a terrific novel...