Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“Drive” by James Sallis – The Drives of Solitude

Drive by James Sallis – book cover
Not long ago the movie Drive (2011) made a tremendous splash in the moviemaking industry, and personally I will admit to it being one of my favorite movies.

Perhaps somewhat predictably, the success of the movie led many people to become curious as to what inspired it, and it didn’t take much time for James Sallis’ Drive to skyrocket into fame. Before discussing the book itself, I would like to make one thing clear: though the movie is inspired from the novel and retains some critical elements, the two are very different works. There is a movie tie-in novel, and this review is not about that: it’s about the original source.

In any case, Drive opens with a flashforward (or a flashback, depending on how you look at it), and maintains this kind of nature throughout the whole thing. However, the story becomes somewhat clear early enough; the protagonist, a man simply known as Driver, works as a stuntman and moonlights as a getaway driver, leads a somewhat isolated existence, bouncing between the two jobs in search of something. He soon makes the acquaintance of a woman and her son, with the father of the family, Standard, expected to be released from prison soon. Despite his promises and even best intentions, Standard slips back into the life which led him to being locked up in the first place, and as one would expect, ends up becoming partners with Driver. Eventually, a botched job leads Driver to become the sole owner of a bag of full of cash, and as fate usually dictates in these situations, it belongs to some of the worst people to have chasing after you.

As was mentioned before, the first thing you’ll notice about the novel is its disjointed nature; the chapters are brief and jump back and forth in time, with there often being no apparent connection from one to the other. From what I gathered, the chapters were designed in such a fashion so as to implement a regular pace, alternating between faster and slower-paced events, action and background stories. There is a fair amount of action in this book, and it is always fast, vivid, rather descriptive and brutal.

Sallis doesn’t dwell too much on anything, perfectly reflecting the attitude of his protagonist, who does nothing but drive forward, never looking back to think about where the point of no return was crossed. He is practical, rugged, and is actually rather pleasant to watch as he wades through from one hellish scenario to the next, transforming himself in the process from a simple and talented driver into a frighteningly effective murderer and vengeance incarnate. Though he does commit many terrible actions, Sallis does a magnificent job at justifying his perspective, often making us sympathize and feel pity for the hand fate dealt him.

All things considered, Drive seems like a more or less straightforward novel on the surface, but one can find much meaning in it, should they choose to dig on deeper. If you have no problem with a disjointed narrative and a novel which has little room for long philosophical monologues, then you should definitely check out Drive if a noir thriller is what you’re after.

James Sallis (December 21, 1944)

James Sallis

James Sallis is an American writer, poet and musician, arguably best-known today for his contemporary noir novel, Drive, adapted into a critically-acclaimed movie of the same name in its own right in 2011. He has dabbled in many domains throughout his career, editing and writing numerous essays, biographies, criticisms, short stories, anthologies, and even musicology papers.

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