“Drive” by James Sallis (2006)


Set somewhere in a time period where pay phones exist, Drive tells the minimalist tale of The Driver, a stunt man by day who moonlights as a getaway driver during his off hours.  He falls in love with his neighbor Irene, whose husband (Standard) is in prison for a robbery.  After Standard is released, he strikes up a very profitable friendship with The Driver.  After a job goes wrong, Driver finds himself with a bag full of money belonging to the mafia and a price on his head.  He doesn’t take kindly to this and ends up having to kill a bunch of people to survive. 

Drive is told, for the most part, in non-sequential order.  We get brief snapshots of what Driver’s life was like growing up, how he made it to Hollywood, and how his life came to be what it is.  The strength of the story is Sallis’s tightly controlled writing.  In Drive’s 158 pages, there are few words wasted.  I appreciated how Sallis gives a sympathetic portrayal of everyone in this story as people caught up in circumstances somewhat beyond their control.  This is epitomized in the dinner scene between The Driver and his nemesis Bernie Rose, where the two men realize how much they have in common.

Drive was adapted for the screen in the 2011 film of the same title (review forthcoming) and a book sequel titled Driven in 2012 (review also forthcoming).  For those wondering, the film version of Drive is much different from the book.  The two versions compliment each other by playing to strengths of the medium they are told on.  The brisk and pulp noir writing style of Sallis makes Drive more of a Jim Thompson style caper/dark morality tale, whereas the film turns Driver into a super hero vigilante wearing a cool jacket.  The literary flourish vs. pop art cinema make both versions stand-out and contrast from one another.  As for which version is the better, I have to give the nod to the book for the before-mentioned dinner scene which closes out the story.

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