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Phoenix Author Delivers

Joyride With Drive

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Bargain Book Reviews

Modern Times Magazine breaks down works of literature that are readily available in the bargain bin or at your local discount bookstore.

Author: James Sallis

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 9781590581810
Pages: 176
First printing: 2005

Our Rating: 9/10

Cover of Drive, written by James Sallis and published by Poisoned Pen Press .
Forget The Film Adaption: Drive By James Sallis Weaves A Different, More Intricate Tale Of Adventure, Betrayal And Excitement That Also Ponders Life’s Moral Quandaries


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Rating: 9/10

May 6, 2013 — A tale of crime, cars, and chaos, Drive does not disappoint. James Sallis’ book is an intricate, weaving adventure that crosses state lines and moral boundaries.

The book, partially propelled by rave reviews and the success of the 2011 film adaptation of the same name, became a popular title in bookstores across the country. And, like all popular books, it eventually trickled down to the second hand stores like Bookmans and Half-Priced Books.

This is not a knock against Drive, quite the opposite. A book hasn’t truly made it in my mind until is a permanent fixture on a used bookstore shelf, an homage to the quantity of people who have experienced it and then sent it back into the world.

Additionally, Sallis, a Phoenix resident, published the novel with Poisoned Pen Press, a local mystery publisher that often sells its wares at Bookmans.

And I could not be happier.

The novel’s success, and ultimate place on the bargain racks, has allowed me to review it in this space.

While I do not want to get too caught up in comparing the novella and the movie it inspired, it is important to point out that they are two separate entities entirely. Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film is obviously based on Sallis’ work, but it is a loose adaptation, borrowing character names and general themes, while leaving the actual story behind.

Sallis has mentioned in the press that he enjoyed of the movie (as did I), but that does not change the fact that they are two entirely different stories. It is unfair, and unproductive, to try and compare the two too closely.

The novella is a real, hard-boiled noir thriller. However, unlike so many of its generic counterparts that anonymously line bookstore walls, Drive has depth. Sallis manages to do something that so many noir authors have failed to achieve: He balances the necessary pulpiness of the genre with a morality tale.

Rather than veer off into tropes, Sallis gives the story gravitas by deftly crafting a character and a narrative that challenges the reader to answer heady questions.

Do the choices we make define us? Does violence simply beget violence, or is there a more complicated set of factors perpetuating bloodshed? Can a man be simply good or evil, or is he the collective result of the decisions he makes?

Those are only a few of the questions that Sallis forces the reader to answer. Through the trials of the main character, Driver, the author delves into the depths of the human experience by chronicling the challenges of love, life and loss.

And, boy is it a fun ride.

While the questions Sallis poses are significant ones, the frame in which he places them is a fast-paced, gritty noir adventure.

Driver, a stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night, lives by a simple code that has kept him safe, alive, and alone. However, as he becomes involved with a woman, and her criminal ex, the rules begin to blur.

The novella, which clocks in at well under 200 pages, is a brisk read as Sallis wit and simple style compliment the frequent action in the work.

As Driver’s world descends into the chaos resulting from his life decisions, the character is forced to choose between isolated survival, revenge, or some mixture of the two. Rather than have the character existentially debate the merits of both paths, Sallis uses Driver’s actions to illustrate the struggle within.

With rough and violent strokes, the author continually knocks the character down and then systematically builds him up again, forcing the reader to acknowledge the level of pain, guilt, and determination needed to justify this cycle.

The humor in the novel can come off a bit dry and times and the cultural references are occasionally outdated (both common in noir fiction), but, ultimately, Sallis makes it work. His prose, which is generally smooth but hits occasional rough patches in the intercalary chapters, is so fast-paced that any segment that disrupts the reader is gone as fast as the titular character leaving the scene of a crime.

Drive isn’t a perfect novel, but it is downright enjoyable. Sallis crafts a work of dark, dirty, fun noir that also manages to transcend the genre due to the significant questions the author raises concerning the human condition and our propensity for violence.

Sallis’ sequel Driven is currently out on Poisoned Pen Press. Check the site in the coming weeks for an interview with the author.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at
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