This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on Dec. 9, 2015.
Author: Nic Pizzolatto
Year Of Publication: 2010
Genre: Crime Fiction, Noir
Come back to 2010 with me, when the hard-scrabble anti-hero protagonist hadn’t been beaten to death, where time wasn’t yet a flat circle but “the past isn’t real,” and where a guy could make little metal men from the aluminum of a beer can free of Internet mockery.
Roy Cady’s the name, crackin’ skulls for mobsters is his game. But when we first meet him he’s been recently diagnosed with lung cancer and forced to face his morality for the first time. He’s a bruiser and a goon, someone paid to make others hurt while keeping his mouth shut. And that was fine. But trouble comes, as it does so frequently in Pizzolatto’s work, because of a woman, and things change.
Roy’s ambushed by his scorned mob boss and lucky to survive the ordeal, running for his life from his New Orleans home with a teenage prostitute, Rocky, in tow. Where to? Five bucks says you already know. On the way, Roy’s persuaded to rescue 3-year-old Tiffany from Rocky’s father’s house. In Galveston, the crew tries to become their best selves; tries to leave a life of crime and prostitution for an honest life in a motel – because, as they say, they owe it to the kid.
But you can’t run from the past even if you don’t believe it exists. You can only hope to hide.
Galveston unfolds in two different times, 1987 and 2008 (in the leadup to Hurricane Ike), which works here. It’s a linearity Pizzolatto borrowed for season one of the show he created, True Detective (along with a few other character traits). But time itself has not been kind to Pizzolatto.
He’s not written a novel since this, his first. But his work on True Detective permeated cultural discussion for the past two years. It’s a fact that anyone who choses to read this novel today will do so through the lens of that show, and that’s fair. Writing is solitary work for public consumption. But this book is both similar to and different from his show. There’s a clear anti-hero and it’s set in and around gently rotting towns and nature: “I deemed the weather offensive, the way the air lay on me like a giant tongue, clammy, warm and gritty as embers.”
But Pizzolatto is much more suited for the imaginative aspects of a novel than the harsh truths of a TV camera. He has problems with dialog and character description, to be sure: “I think the reason men liked her was because she gave off a high level of carnality. You looked at her and just knew – this one’s up for anything. It’s sexy, but you just can’t stand it.”
Still, I found myself uncompromisingly drawn to his description of place and to the world he built. I may not have always liked the people in this world, but damn if it wasn’t a pretty picture.