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Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

I've probably used this Henry James quote before in one of my posts, but I'll say it again because it bears repeating:

In the arts, feeling is always meaning.

I really subscribe to this theory. The way I feel about a book always tells me what the book has meant to me. And by feeling, I don't just mean emotion; sometimes it's an actual physical sensation brought on by the culmination of a truly great story. My two favorite meaning-feelings after finishing a book are these:

1. Grinning from ear-to-ear like an idiot
2. Like I've just been struck in the chest by a ten-ton wrecking ball

As you can probably tell just from the cover, Nic Pizzolatto's debut novel, Galveston, falls under the latter category. The books that leave me grinning from ear-to-ear are usually YA romances and the like, and Galveston is obviously not that. Galveston is, in fact, a crime novel that's drawing comparisons to Dennis Lehane, Raymond Carver and Dashiell Hammett and was nominated for an Edgar Award, which is a very prestigious award in the mystery community despite the fact that the Poe bust they give out looks like my six-year-old nephew made it at one of those places where you paint the pottery (ours was called Sunshine Crafts growing up, fun fact).

Roy Cady makes his living as muscle/hitman for a New Orleans mob boss named Stan Ptitko. Their relationship is strange and sensitive, intensified by the fact that Stan is now sleeping with Roy's ex-girlfriend, Carmen. Roy knows something is up when he's sent with an associate (another ex of Carmen's) into a dark house, supposedly unarmed (but Roy is smarter than to go into a situation so vulnerable), and it is--he's jumped by three pros in commando gear and his associate is killed. He only narrowly escapes due to a combination of preparation, skill, and luck, but he's not alone. There's a girl in the house, a young prostitute named Rocky, who Roy takes with him when he hits the road, hoping to outrun his would-be assassins.

But the thing is, Roy is dying anyway. He's got lung cancer at forty and he's unlikely to see forty-one. And yet he runs, towards Galveston, the scene of his most fondly cherished memories, of a vacation he once took with a girl he once loved. Rocky runs with him, and though Roy often thinks of ditching her, he's also protective of the girl, and even decides to stick with her after she convinces him to stop off at her childhood home in Orange, TX so that she can pick up some cash someone owes her, only to come back with $80 and a three-year-old girl, her sister Tiffany. What follows is a tightly woven noir novel that manages to be gritty and real, yet accessible to someone who's probably not always looking to enjoy a novel about a hit man (i.e. me). Roy is obviously a scary dude, but the author brings out a real human side to him, and many of Roy's experiences are straight-to-the-gut poignant.

The book is also full of tension, as Roy's paranoia over being caught by Stan Ptitko's men increases daily and his protectiveness over the young girls in his care leads him to make some risky decisions that have disastrous consequences. As he reflects on these events nearly twenty years later (his cancer doesn't consume him nearly as quickly as one would think, or as Roy would like) as Hurricane Ike swirls over Galveston, the reader is left with the sinking feeling that everything reverberates, nothing ends, and that there is a world, a great wide world, where a human life means nothing--even, some times, the person themself.

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