Bookshelves with superimposed title (Drive)

Drive, by James Sallis: cult classic in waiting

James Sallis’ Drive is hard-boiled noir meets literary fiction, with hallmarks of a cult classic-to-be. Like the tagline on my movie tie-in edition – “Get in. Get out. Get Away.” – this is a lean and intriguing read.

“Driver” is a stunt driver by day. The rest of the time he drives getaway cars for small-time crooks – until he crosses the wrong set of hoodlums. He’s young, reticent and smart. He’s a drifter and pretty aloof with it, but he’s good to the people he cares about, and he can get himself out of a tight spot: all of which makes him eminently likeable. The story begins with the aftermath of a blood bath, then unwinds in fits and starts to explain Driver’s backstory, then neatly fishtails back into place to conclude the opening premise of heist gone wrong.

This is a short book – at 191 pages and plenty of white space, it’s more a novella. The length is just right for the story, though with Sallis’s prose, it would be just as readable if it were longer. The plot weaves heist, mafia, revenge and noir elements with stunt driving and action sequences. The language isn’t challenging, but it is very neat – brief like Hemingway – and poetic. Drive works equally well as movie-like escapism, or for the Hollywood insider gossip or for the gauzy insights into human nature and activity.

“Walking away from Benito’s, Driver stepped into a world transformed. Like most cities, L.A. became a different beast by night. Final washes of pink and orange lay low on the horizon now, breaking up, fading, as though the sun let go its hold and the city’s lights, a hundred thousand impatient understudies, stepped in.”

Similar to: The Godfather, Fight Club, The Big Sleep.

Drive, James Sallis. No Exit Press, 2011


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Image by Janko Ferlič at Unsplash.