Drive, by James Sallis: cult classic in waiting

Bookshelves with superimposed title (Drive)
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James Sallis’ Drive mixes hard-boiled noir with literary fiction in this lean and intriguing read.

When we first meet “Driver” – which is the only name he’s given – he’s been attacked and there’s blood everywhere. The story 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.

Driver is a movie stunt driver by day. The rest of the time he drives getaway cars for small-time crooks. 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 pretty likeable.

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 often surprisingly poetic.

“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.”

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.


James Sallis, Drive. No Exit Press, 2011

Other books like Drive
  • Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk (life on the edge, charismatic criminals)
  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler (noir, crime)

Picture credit: Janko Ferlič