I Read James Sallis’ ‘Drive’.

steve cuocci
3 min readMay 23, 2024

I read this book in three sittings, one of which I downed 25 pages in 15 minutes while waiting for a friend to shower. The next two were chunks of 60 and 70 pages each, likely less than an hour in each session. One can devour this book on a plane (or even waiting for a plane), and it’s engaging and direct enough to keep you sat in front of it for its brief “runtime”.

My biggest question on this book overall is this: if I didn’t know the movie so well, would I have enjoyed the book? Scenes are blasted through with immediacy, cycling between the past and the present with what feels like little to no pattern or warning. In fact, there seems to be almost no sense of priority in it at all, whatsoever. This book is completely raw, written like a cool idea that was pored over time and time again, with elements of violence peppered up, facts about cars tacked in as part of the final edit. This feels like such a barebones story, and since it runs at about 150 pages, font size 13, there’s a sense of primal joy that goes along with it. It feels like reading a great story from a friend, one that ignores pretense and just goes for the jugular.

This story feels written with the bravado of someone sitting straight up in bed at 1130pm with a wildfire of an idea, writing for hours until lunch the next day and sending it to their editor with haste. I love that.

Again, does my sense of the film, though, punch up the drama? Does it give face to Driver? Does it help me fill in the blanks of rapid narrative? Does the filmic voice that it’s been granted enhance my experience of reading the source material? I’d say that it’s very likely. But also, it brings up this point: great films don’t have to come from epic novels. Great novels don’t have to be boiled over and creased out over months and years. A great story is a great story and given less exposition, sometimes allowing different voices to tell the same story is what got us here with so much of our great mythology, folklore and classic tales all told.

This book was listed as an Entertainment Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year. Do I think it deserves that? No. It was also listed similarly by the Washington Post. Do I think this is an all-time great? Not a chance. Do I think it would be something I’d think about all year the first time I read it? Absolutely not. But was it cool? Sure, man. It was very cool.

I recommend this book if you love the movie, just to have some idea of the source material. It also kind of inspires me to want to dig deeper into this pulpy little genre, this neo-noir segment of fiction whose books can be swallowed whole with a glass of water with stories that zip past like a freight train.

--

--