Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: Between Here and the Yellow Sea

Between Here and the Yellow Sea Between Here and the Yellow Sea by Nic Pizzolatto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I imagine most people have found this collection after seeing Pizzolatto’s work on True Detective. The snippets I’ve seen make it seem excellent, and it’s high on my to-watch list, but I’m here more because I very much enjoyed his novel, Galveston. It was the best of several hardboiled novels I got to in a row a year or two ago, and he’s been on my radar since.

This collection is certainly solid, and I enjoyed more or less all the stories in it. As I see it, Pizzolatto does two things particularly well. First, he conjures a sense of place. Whether these stories come from St. Louis, the Louisiana Gulf, ex-urban Indianapolis, or Port Arthur, Texas, you get the sense he knows his scene. It feels as if each place is his hometown, as if he’s bringing a lifetime’s worth of perspective to it.

Second, at least in the first nine stories, he has a clear hardboiled/noir sensibility. He seems to tell his stories in the crisp, clear order in which they should be told. His characters are genuinely haunted and face genuine dilemmas. They’re guided by philosophies, but their philosophies take them only so far.

I bracket off the last two stories because, as the notes report, they were added to an earlier edition that had only those first nine. These last two stories are very good, better than most of the early ones, but they strike me as having a different feel. They’re more ambitious in their narrative structure, more complex in the way they frame the questions. They are, in other words, less hardboiled, less directed toward some set of primal questions. I’m not complaining at their inclusion, but they do seem to alter the mood of the collection.

As far as I’m concerned, the strongest story here is the first, “Ghost Birds.” Its central character is a BASE jumper; he’s secured a night watchman job at the St. Louis Arch, and he jumps from it, camouflaged at night. When a college girl figures out his secret, she demands he teach her the skills, and they fall in love. He’s lost an earlier girlfriend, though, and he can’t imagine bringing this one into something so dangerous. That’s just the outline, but the dilemma is powerful, and the price he pays for his sense of justice is compelling.

I also very much liked “1987, The Races,” about a kid who, sensing his father’s humiliation, further humiliates him for no clear reason. Other good ones are “Between Here and the Yellow Sea,” “The Guild of Thieves, Lost Women and Sunrise Palms,” and “Nepal” (the last noir of the original nine stories).

On the evidence of this and Galveston, to say nothing of his reputation for True Detective, Pizzolatto remains the real deal.

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