Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Microreview [book]: Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

Pretty but Uninspiring

To feed my borderline unhealthy obsession with True Detective, I tracked down a copy of show creator Nic Pizzolatto's crime novel Galveston. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, though "gritty," "artsy" and "weird" all seemed plausible--particularly after reading Dennis Lehane's glowing review in the New York Times. Turns out Galveston is plenty gritty, but not nearly as ambitious or abstract as I wanted it to be.

Galveston tells the story of Roy Cady, an enforcer for a mid-level gangster in New Orleans. Cady finds himself in a tight situation and so hightails it to the eponymous city on the Gulf with hard case Roxy and a young child in tow.

Galveston is fairly classic noir, but as I outlined in my Friday Five for pornokitsch, noir basically comes in three flavors:

1. The Hardboiled Thriller, in which a stubborn and ethical hero pushes back against dark and corrupt world, ultimately settling for small, symbolic victories against a backdrop of general hopelessness (e.g. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler).

2. The Sadsack Tragedy, in which a well-intentioned but weak-willed antihero attempts but is unable to escape the clutches of said dark and corrupt world (e.g. James M. Cain, Jim Thompson).

3. The Revenge Fantasy, in which a sociopathic product of the dark and corrupt world seeks revenge against its agents, yet is unconcerned with changing or improving that world (e.g. Patricia Highsmith, Richard Stark). 

The genius of Galveston is that Pizzolatto keeps us guessing as to which one Cady's story will turn out to be. And the book is beautifully written too--sharp, evocative and peppered with passages that are, quite simply, dazzling.

Unfortunately, Galveston often feels weighed down by reliance on the tropes of the genre--the tough-but-caring criminal, the hard case (yet vulnerable!) love interest, the innocent child, etc. It isn't that Galveston is bad--it's not at all; it's that Galveston plays things a bit too safe. In other words, it's no True Detective.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for Pizzolatto's gorgeous prose.

Penalties: -1 for "meh."

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10. "Enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore."


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator (2012).

Pizzolatto, Nic. Galveston: A Novel [Scribner, 2011]