‘Drive’ is ultimate look at neo-noir Hollywood

By Joshua Madden
A&E Editor

Could you make it as a daytime Hollywood stunt driver? Probably not. Could you make it if you worked at night as a criminal getaway driver? Definitely not.

James Sallis’ neo-noir look at Hollywood, “Drive,” asks just those questions.

You’re probably familiar with “Drive” because of the recent release of the feature film starring Ryan Gosling, but many people don’t realize that “Drive” was actually first born in the form of a short novel.

This is not a novel where you should just say, “Oh, I’ll see the movie instead of reading the book.”

“Drive” is worth every bit of the time it will take you to read, which isn’t too much because of the book’s relatively short length.

The novel follows a character who is, in true neo-noir style, named Driver. Struggling through foster homes as a child, Driver decides to go out to California to make it as a Hollywood stunt driver.

He also ends up working as a criminal getaway driver and meets some of the more questionable characters that the underbelly of Hollywood has in its ranks.

Attempting to give a plot summary for “Drive” would be difficult, mainly because so much of the enjoyment from the novel comes out of the fact that it is written in a non-sequential style. The story is revealed in pieces that come together to form a complete work. It might be easier to explain the novel by comparing to it to other works of art.

If you think about “Max Payne” somehow combining with Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” you have a bit of an idea of what reading “Drive” is like.

In fact, Tarantino probably has more in common with this book than any actual book would, with the possible exception of Michael Connelly’s hard crime novels.

Tarantino’s habit of mixing cinematic references in with graphic violence and casual criminality is present here in Sallis’ work.

The similarities between Stuntman Mike in Tarantino’s “Death Proof” and Driver in “Drive” are too prevalent to ignore, but the characters are definitely distinct creations from each other.

“Death Proof” and “Drive” are clearly two works from the same world. Such a world is clearly a strange and arguably even warped place, but it’s evidently a place were great art is inspired.

This may go almost without saying after that favorable comparison, but I need to get it off of my chest: “Drive” is excellent and holds up against these works.

The novel is fast-paced. I personally read the whole thing in one sitting — I simply couldn’t put the novel down.

Driver, despite the name, is actually a compelling character. He’s somehow incredibly likable despite the horrible things he does in the novel, partially because you can’t help but feel sorry for him as he moves from scene to scene.

Sallis made a criminal getaway driver named Driver into a character for readers to sympathize with and that speaks to the quality of his writing.

The other characters are bit players in the novel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Driver is by far the most interesting character in the novel, and Sallis wisely focuses on him and his story.

The one exception to this is the major villain who eventually emerges over the course of the novel, and he is fascinating as well. There’s a strange dynamic that Sallis creates between Driver and his enemy, but it works for the story.

Part of this is because of the neo-noir element of the story and Sallis integrates this into the story in an excellent way. Characters act a little differently in this sub-genre than they might in others, but this is something Sallis takes advantage of when creating the relationships Driver has with the other characters.

I haven’t read a significant number of neo-noir works — despite the fact that I do tend to enjoy them — but it’s worth noting that “Drive” is by far the best one I can remember reading.

There’s just very little to complain about in “Drive.” The story is fast-paced, the characters are compelling, the writing is sharp. Everything in “Drive” just works.

Don’t let this one drive by you too fast. Go pick up “Drive” before you miss out.

Reviews in the Lariat represent only the viewpoint of the reviewer and not necessarily the views of the rest of the staff.