Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review of Driven

If ever there were a book that didn't need a sequel, it's James Sallis's Drive. Short, nasty, self-contained, when Drive ended it seemed final. However, the success of the recent movie, has given Sallis, who has been writing excellent books nobody reads for a long time now, a profile boost, which has prompted a sequel, Driven. Billed on its cover as, "The sequel to Drive, the award winning motion picture," it is unlikely that we would have Driven had it not been for the film.

Billing a book as the sequel to a motion picture isn't really fair to fans of the film (which ended much more ambiguously than it's source material), and it isn't really fair to the author, who wrote a sequel to his novel, not the film. It has the potential to confuse people. For one, Driven, is not really accessible if you have not read Drive. Watching the movie, which departed from the novel in important ways, isn't enough. Fans of the movie might pick up this book and find themselves a little lost and may lose interest. Instead of opening up Sallis to new readers, marketing the book this way might drive them away. So, let me say to fans of the movie who are thinking about picking this book up: Read Drive first.

Now, qualifications out of the way, let me say that Driven is a worthy sequel. The story picks up years after the events of Drive. Driver has settled down in Arizona and gotten married. He runs a successful business renting out vintage cars to movie productions. Then, one day, he and his wife are attacked by hitmen. His wife is killed, and Driver slips back into his old life and discovers that the past isn't as easy to leave behind as he thought.

The story is slick and fast-paced with plenty of action, much like the original, and the conclusion is satisfying in an existential way. Sallis is an excellent writer who uses deceptively simple language to express complex ideas. It's language at it's most pure and a joy to read. You'll pick the book up and won't put it down again until it's over.

The one nit I will pick is with the characterization of Driver. Always emotionally self-contained, Driver spends almost no time mourning his wife. His apparent lack of grief, or more correctly, lack of expression of grief, rings false. Driver slips a little too effortlessly back into his old life, and while I can see where it might have slowed the frantic narrative pace of the novel, it also might have had a bit more emotional resonance. No one is that self-contained.

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