James Sallis


"Drive"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple SEP 30, 2006)

"Think we choose our lives?"  Bernie Rose said as they cruised into coffee and cognac.

"No. But I don't think they're thrust upon us, either.  What it feels like to me is, they're forever seeping up under out feet."

Driver, the damaged main character of this minimalist noir novel, works as a stunt man by day and as the driver of getaway cars at night.  Purely pragmatic, he has no real dreams and no long-term goals, the result of his violent childhood, which was not a childhood at all.  No one gets close to him, though he occasionally shows signs that he has some feelings for a few other damaged creatures.  When it comes to his work, however, he is all business--"I don't take part, I don't know anyone, I don't carry weapons. I drive."

Opening dramatically with Driver leaning against a wall in a Motel 6 room, his arm wounded so badly it is useless, with three dead bodies around him, the novel repeats these images like a bizarre refrain, as the background for this scene and the action which follows are revealed.  In terse prose, as efficient in conveying information as Driver is in killing those who threaten him, Sallis follows Driver as he moves between Los Angeles and Phoenix, doing jobs.

Episodes from his life hit the reader with the intensity of gunfire and in random order, connected not by transitions but through the character and violent background of Driver as his life unfolds.  Scenes from Driver's film assignments overlap with scenes from his real life, sometimes inspiring Driver to reminisce or to try to look forward to see how and why he ended up where he is.

Actions speak louder than words here, but the dialogue, when it occurs, is memorable and dramatic.  Scenes in which Driver tries to visit his estranged mother and later his foster family are intensely moving because they emphasize an emotional connection which is otherwise lacking in his life.  He is intelligent, and he keeps trying to communicate with people through words, not violence, though the circumstances of his life are almost entirely violent.  He has no dreams, forced to believe instead in a brutal reality—he is Borges, the writer/realist, not Don Quixote, the tilter at windmills, he notes.  "I don't think [our lives] are thrust upon us," he explains in one conversation.  "What it feels like to me is, they're forever seeping up under our feet."

A dramatic, thoughtful, and powerfully moving examination of the life of someone who has few choices, this novel transcends its darkness and violence to show the continuing desire for connection even among life's most violent people.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 39 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Drive at No Exit Press



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

John Turner Series:

Turner Trilogy in one book:

Lew Griffin Series:

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About the Author:

James SallisJames Sallis is a published poet, critic, translator, and novelist. He was born in Helena, Arkansas in 1944. He spent his childhood in Helena and has subsequently lived in New Orleans, London, New York City, Boston, Paris, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Sallis is multi-faceted man of many talents, Jim has worked as a creative writing teacher, respiratory therapist, musician, music teacher, screenwriter, periodical editor, book reviewer, and translator, winning acclaim for his 1993 version of Raymond Queneau's Saint Glinglin. Jim plays several musical instruments, including the guitar, french horn, fiddle, Hawaiian guitar, mandolin, sitar and dobro. He's also had an acting role in an independent film. He has written more than 100 short stories, poems, and essays; his reviews and essays have appeared in a number of publications including The Washington Post Book World, Los Angeles Times, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Boston Review. He has been shortlisted for the Anthony, Nebula, Edgar, Shamus, and Gold Dagger awards.

A former Tulane Scholar and Fellow, Sallis donated his personal papers to the university’s special collections in 1999.

Sallis lives with his wife, Karyn, in Phoenix, Arizona.

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