Book Notes: 'Driven,' by James Sallis
"Driven," by James Sallis. Poisoned Pen Press, Arizona, 2012. 147 pages. $19.95
Driver kills a lot of people in “Driven,” the sequel to “Drive.” Both are short, taut, nicely rendered noir thrillers by James Sallis. Killers, professionals who tend to work in pairs, come at Driver relentlessly in this sequel. He doesn’t know why he’s being pursued with such ferocious vigor, but it’s a kill-or-be-killed world, and he does what’s necessary to stay alive.
The 2011 movie version of “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, received a lot of positive critical attention. That story of a risk taker who does stunt driving by day and driving for criminals at night picks up seven years later in “Driven.” A lot has changed in Driver’s life, though the danger quotient is upped considerably. Driver is being hunted. He barely has time to eat or sleep.
In Sallis’ sequel, Driver has built himself a new life in Arizona refurbishing classic old cars and renting them to Hollywood studios. He and his fiancée, Elsa, are happy until the day two men attack and kill Elsa. Before they have a chance to come at him, Driver kills them both. He may specialize in driving, but he’s got the quick murderous punch down.
There’s a lot packed into the spare, poetic prose. The characters are fabulously well-fleshed out, especially considering the author’s brevity. Sentences are carefully wrought and revelatory. Sallis isn’t Shakespeare, but there’s something reminiscent, given the irony, the pathos, the very human characters, the humor and the pitch of the drama. Readers need to pay attention. It’s a page-turner, but every word counts.
In an amusing scene, Driver checks into a seriously seedy motel. While in the lobby awaiting service from a preoccupied clerk, he eyes a chair with at least 16 cigarette holes in it. When he gets to his disgusting room, he’s not surprised. “The room was everything the chair promised.”
Plots run from all dizzying directions, like tributaries feeding a larger body of water. This body is Driver, the intended receptor of all manner of violence. One of those helping him out is Felix, a former Ranger who served in Desert Storm. He has connections and know-how. When he tells Driver that the onslaught of killers must be “something from the past,” Driver responds, “It usually is.” By the end of the book, you realize it’s all about karma. You can’t outrun it, no matter how good a driver you are. But what you can do is learn to maneuver.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.