By: James Sallis
Mariner Books, 176 pages
For many of us, fall is the best time of year, when town gets quiet, locals take their vacations and you have one more chance before the crazy winter season to sit down with a great book.
For my fall “trashic” selection, I suggest “Drive,” a hardboiled noir with a modern twist by author James Sallis.
Like George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” (my summer’s Trashics pick), “Drive” is a piece of genre fiction that manages to do more with its genre than most. In this case, “Drive” belongs firmly to the Raymond Chandler tradition of sharp and poetic detective novels, although this protagonist isn’t a fedora-wearing tough-guy P.I., but a young stunt driver who moonlights as a heist getaway man.
Like any good noir, the drama kicks into gear when Driver, as the protagonist is simply known, finds himself double-crossed on a job, and has to track down the ones who double-crossed him in order to save his own life. The book has a lot of other things you’d expect from a noir: a beautiful but possibly treacherous broad, a sweet wife whose husband has a habit of getting into trouble, a secretly soft-hearted gangster. But through a combination of elliptical narrative and spare, lyrical prose, Sallis manages to turn the story into something that feels almost profound: a meditation on chance, and how apparently simple decisions can change the course of one’s life. Take this opening passage:
“Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there’d be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping toward him, the pressure of dawn’s late light at the windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room….”
Sallis continues in this fashion, with rhythmic lines that lull you like the backseat of a car cruising down a dark and lonely road.”
Now I’ve always been a sucker for noir, and this one doesn’t disappoint. But I was actually turned onto “Drive” by a friend who’d seen the recent film adaptation (with Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman), and said it was every bit as stylish and even philosophical as the source material.
Like “Game of Thrones,” this slice of genre fiction offers something more to the non-genre reader: beautiful prose, if nothing else, and a dream-like narrative that reflects on chance and fate. But for anyone who enjoys a good book, “Drive” is a compulsive read that keeps you guessing until the end, unsure whether Driver has a chance in hell of surviving his increasingly violent vendetta.
Look for “Drive” at your favorite local bookstore – The Booky Joint in Mammoth or Spellbinder Books in Bishop