Nic Pizzolatto is the creator and writer of the recent, critically acclaimed HBO series True Detective. It’s a mark of the growing regard for such series that the book’s blurbs refer as much to True Detective as they do to this, the author’s only novel, first published four years ago.
The simple story involves a man named Roy Cady who goes on the run and befriends a young girl. It all ends badly. It is told in the first person by Cady, who reveals an impressive feel for language for an uneducated thug and professional murderer. Galveston contains much good writing, such as this description of Cady’s girlfriend:
I think she thrived on betrayal more than sex. Like she had a score to settle.
She claimed I hit her on one occasion, but I didn’t believe it. She was a bit of an actress, and drama held more priority for her than the truth.
Though I admit my memory of the night in question is not quite whole.
There is also a lot of imagery, and in seeking to combine literary effects with noir fiction, Pizzolatto is following a number of other contemporary writers, most notably the impressive Daniel Woodrell (Winter’s Bone).
Unfortunately, he tries too hard. There are too many unsuccessful similes, such as the description of Cady watching “the plump white exhaust from oil refineries unroll in the distance like a road into the sun”. Too often, especially at a chapter’s end, it strives for emotion like a bad Springsteen song:
You’re born and forty years later you hobble out of a bar, startled by your own aches. Nobody knows you. You steer down lightless highways, and you invent a destination because movement is key. So you head toward the last thing you have left to lose, with no real idea what you’re going to do with it.
This is the sort of stuff encouraged by American creative writing programs, where kids spend years reading brief excerpts to mutually supportive peers, hoping for instant affirmation. Pizzolatto comes from that background, which does not teach structure so well either. Here most of the major plot points make no sense, and the character of the white trash killer with the eye of a poet is too obviously a writerly creation.
Similar problems, of course, are to be found in True Detective, with its implausibly intellectual detective, tediously elaborate crime, and high concerns. Come to think, if you liked the series, you might well like Pizzolatto’s book. DH
Sphere, 272pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 19, 2014 as "Nic Pizzolatto, Galveston". Subscribe here.