Book review: Drive

DriveDrive by James Sallis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He just drives. The guy. Here. Driver. Just drives. We know this because it’s his name – he has no other. Having one name is badass, having no name (and a gritty backstory) is superbadass and generally an indicator that you’re at the intersection of pulp and noir.

James Sallis’s slight novel is wonderful. It’s economical, but sprinkled with ten-buck words. It’s a world away from the sci-fi that began his career, and though it’s a modern work, seems to be written under the influence of the best sort of taut technique: Thompson and Cain, say. Interlocking jobs (criminal or otherwise) and lives, none of them pristine, tell a largely criminal narrative, though without any sort of opprobrium. If anything, the action taking place in the Hollywood sun say just that This Is How It Is, and nothing more. It’s nihilism with better catering.

If you’re looking for a written version of the story which propelled Drive, the 2012 Nicolas Winding Refn flick that cast Ryan Gosling as a silent psycho in a synth-heavy land of colour, like Michael Mann huffing vaporwave glue, you’re looking in the wrong place. True, this is the book the film came from, but there’s a lot of difference – so much is added to the film that isn’t in the original that they’re really two different works. (This page offers good discussion on the differences between source and film., though obviously spoilers abound.)

Drive is short enough that it never outlives its welcome. It is approachable, offers a fully-realised world (well, except for the main character’s name) and is unafraid to break into violence with very little notice. This is probably as, in all good noir, violence is unremarkable, a fact of life. Whether it’s a shotgun blast or a rolling car in a stunt gone wrong, it’s described without raising a narrative pulse, though the reaction in the reader may be slightly different.

Knowing there’s a sequel to the book certainly tainted some of my consumption – you know the guy’s got to survive if there’s a second – but this is a world that’s certainly intriguing. Like popcorn, it’s quickly gobbled and probably isn’t healthy, but when it tastes this good, fuck it.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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