Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: "Between Here and the Yellow Sea" by Nic Pizzolatto

Before he created the acclaimed television series True Detective (at least the first season), before he wrote the superlative thriller Galveston (read my original review from 2011), Nic Pizzolatto wrote a short story collection called Between Here and the Yellow Sea in 2005.

It's always really interesting to me to read an author's early work, especially when you've read their more recent books. Sometimes you see them struggling to take control of their storytelling ability, their voice, their imagery, and other times you find flashes of genius, genius which becomes even more pronounced as their career progresses. Pizzolatto's collection of nine stories (apparently Amazon has another version of the collection with two stories not included in the original, but I didn't read that one) is moving, poignant, and thought-provoking, and a number of stories pack a punch.

The characters in these stories are struggling—with loss, adolescence, demons real or imagined, and, of course, all types of relationships. All but one of the stories worked for me, although I had a number of favorites, including: "Ghost Birds," in which a park ranger and BASE jumper wrestles with emotional crises and confronts the fears instigated by his risk-taking girlfriend; "1987, The Races," which tells of a young boy forced to provide emotional stability and companionship to his father, who has been slower to recover following his divorce from the boy's mother; "Two Shores," in which a young man struggles to understand his feelings (and control his curiosity) after the reappearance of an old girlfriend; "Amy's Watch," about a teenage girl forced to make sense of the various relationships in her life; and the fantastic title story, which follows a young man and his high school football coach as they drive to California, ostensibly to kidnap the coach's daughter and bring her back to Texas where she belongs.

I read a lot, but even when a book is really well-written and enjoyable, after I finish reading it I sometimes have trouble recalling specific plot points. But a few days after finishing Between Here and the Yellow Sea, I can't seem to get some of these stories out of my head. I've said before that the true sign of an excellent story collection for me is if I can envision some of the stories as full-length novels, and I definitely could here with more than a few of them.

Pizzolatto has real storytelling talent. If you've not read Galveston, I'd definitely encourage you to. Beyond that, I hope that he can fit in another novel or story collection sometime in the future, between his television and film writing gigs. This guy deserves to be read as well as have his work come to life on the big and small screens.

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