It's nice to see James Sallis getting his commercial due after all these years. My first exposure to his work occurred in the early 1970s when he was writing critically acclaimed science fiction short stories (“Tissue,” published in AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS, comes quickly to mind). Sallis has written experimental novels and critical essays on a number of topics, but has achieved what is arguably his greatest success in the field of crime fiction. The Lew Griffin books have been highly revered by aficionados, and of late, his southern noir novels such as CRIPPLE CREEK have brought him additional critical acclaim.
"One can only hope that each and every person who viewed the film Drive will read both the print version and its riveting sequel. The movie was terrific, almost as good as its literary source material, and DRIVEN is every bit its predecessor’s equal. Every word counts in Sallis’ fine, spare prose, and each turn of phrase sticks in the reader’s mind."
But the film adaptation of his novel DRIVE brought him the notice that has been so long overdue. Driver, the (obvious) protagonist of DRIVE, is the ultimate archetype of the 20th-century American figure, wedded to the automobile, independent, without ties, and best left to his own peace, but infused with an unbreakable loyalty. The book is complete in itself, but one is compelled to know more about Driver at the end; with DRIVEN, the reader’s prayers are answered.
This sequel to DRIVE demands to be read slowly. There are so many subtle character developments and wonderful turns of phrase that one does not want to miss anything. It is, in fact, no sacrifice at all to read DRIVEN and immediately do so again, both to re-experience the joy of encountering certain metaphors and to hunt for details one might have overlooked. The plot itself is simple enough: someone is pursuing Driver and is relentless. He or she is sending this or that team or person after Driver, defying his every effort to hide, to go off the radar, to disappear into the vacant and downtrodden sections of a seemingly post-apocalyptic Phoenix. What is presented is the very dark and dangerous side of the famous line from the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are those guys?”
Driver obviously has upset somebody very deeply. It's one of the book's ironies that the more Driver skillfully extricates himself from any particular situation, the deeper he falls into trouble. Fortunately, he has a remarkable, varied set of friends and allies who dip and swirl into and out of the narrative, always leaving the reader wanting more. The good news is that each of them brings a different and unusual skill set into the mix. The bad news is that, by the end of the day, it may not be enough.
One can only hope that each and every person who viewed the film Drive will read both the print version and its riveting sequel. The movie was terrific, almost as good as its literary source material, and DRIVEN is every bit its predecessor’s equal. Every word counts in Sallis’ fine, spare prose, and each turn of phrase sticks in the reader’s mind. This one is a keeper, a book for the ages.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 8, 2012