AlanReads: DRIVE by James Sallis (2nd reading)

Imagine, if you can, a crime novel so fine-tuned and crafted that not one word is wasted. A novel that manages to effectively convey its full emotions and characterizations with a poet's minimal amount of words and sentences. A novel that in its mere 192 pages packs more action and resonance than works over twice its size. If you can imagine such a novel, then you're probably thinking of DRIVE by James Sallis.

Following his excellent series of Lew Griffin novels, and just before releasing the second of his tennessee-based Turner novels, prolific author/critic James Sallis published DRIVE in 2005, a noir masterpiece of present-day Los Angeles that set reviewers on their ears and should hve brought Sallis to a much wider audience. That it didn't is probably due to its publication through a very good, but very limited publisher. The trade paperback release faired slightly better, but Sallis remains very much a "writer's writer" and a darling of the crime fiction cognoscenti.

Bottom line: if you love excellent noir fiction, or simply love excellent writing (regardless of the type), then you owe it to yourself to seek out a copy of DRIVE and marvel in its perfection.

"I drive. That's what I do. And that's all I do." So says Driver, the novel's main character. But we soon learn that he is also the very best at all that he does. So, not surprisingly, he earns his keep doing car stunts for mostly low-budget movies. But he supplements his income, and complicates his life, by also driving for various robberies during his off hours. One of these goes seriously bad, and Driver swears he's been double-crossed. So he sets out to correct things at the risk of his life.

Amazingly, Sallis manages to include enough background information about Driver for us to fully appreciate the kind of person he is. That, along with its shifting time sequences, further assures us that we are in the company of a master. Everything moves with the sleekness and assurances of one of the cars that Driver himself would choose for his jobs.

If you've never experienced James Sallis before, DRIVE is a excellent place to begin. If you know Sallis from any of his previous works, but somehow missed this one, drop whatever you are doing and go find it.

The dust jacket of the hardcover edition contains a blub from the New York Times that reads, "James Sallis has created a perfect piece of noir fiction." Believe it.

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