Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 March 08 • Wednesday

While Paul Verhoeven’s movie of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers gave us a lot more than the book did, Nicholas Winding Refn's film adaptation of James Sallis's Drive gave us quite a bit less. This is not a criticism so much as an observation, however.

The movie of Drive is really about color, light, motion, music, beauty and violence but needs a story to drape all this on top of. And so the unusual and intriguing hardboiled narrative of James Sallis's novel was scooped up and transformed into a much more formulaic though still entertaining piece of work.

The book is dedicated to Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block, "great American writers", and other names are dropped within: Westlake pseudonym Richard Stark, particularly relevant here, George Pelecanos, Theodore Sturgeon.

The driver, actually known as Driver, has a lot more interests than the Ryan Gosling version. In the book he reads a lot, loves jazz, is really into food, has some rewarding friendships, appreciates good wine, etc. The Rockford Files is mentioned twice and there's an interesting passage about Thunder Road.

We learn about where he came from and his back story is interesting and sufficiently tragic, violent and extreme for the person he becomes.

The character played by Bryan Cranston in the movie doesn't exist in the book and neither does the subplot about borrowing money to go into professional racing. The character played by Carey Mulligan ends up with a very different path and the Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman mobsters are more generic Italian transplants from Brooklyn.

Driver's best friend is a screenwriter with whom he has meals and can call to ask the definitions of words that he doesn't know (such as desuetude—I didn't know it either). He also has a long-standing relationship with a disgraced alcoholic doctor and, of course, a Hollywood agent who gets him jobs driving for the movies.

(The story of how Driver breaks into the industry is touching and gratifyingly understated. The writing throughout is lean and spare but precise and occasionally verging on poetic: an ever so slightly more flowery Richard Stark style.)

The plot is more or less the same but the story is very different. And the character of Driver in the movie has practically no inner life at all while in the book he's actually pretty interesting and complex, in addition to being highly skilled, not just in driving.

It's a short book that you'll probably read very quickly because it pulls you along with excitement and pleasure. It comes to a perfect stop at the end.

The first line is “Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake”.