James Sallis’s Drive: Contemporary Pulp Fiction

 

Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling in the film adaptation of "Drive"

Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling in the film adaptation of “Drive”

James Sallis has earned his living writing crime fiction, which hasn’t ingratiated him with literary critics (or even Wikipedia-article writers for that matter: not one of his books has its own Wiki page).  His style is conventional and harkens back to the pulp fiction style of classic crime novels from the 40’s and 50’s.  Sallis does not challenge structural conventions, but he is a great story teller as is evidenced by his novel Drive (which might be more fairly called a novella since it fails to break 160 pages and uses large font with ample spaces in between lines).

 

 

The movie poster for the film adaptation of "Drive".

The movie poster for the film adaptation of “Drive”.

The ‘novel’, which was adopted into the 2011 film of the same name (starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan), is a fast paced narrative that moves at a break-neck speed.  It tells the story of a ‘Driver’ (he is given no name and referred to simply as ‘Driver’ throughout the work).  He works as a stunt man by day and a getaway driver by night.  Having watched the film first (before picking up a copy of the novel from the bargain bin section at the local Chapters), it is hard to think of the novel without comparing it to the film.  What the novel has that the film doesn’t is a backstory.  We get no sense of who the Driver was before the film begins, but in the novel Sallis effectively builds a narrative that though not comprehensive or excessive, is efficient in explaining why Driver indulges in the lifestyle he does while also leaving enough unanswered questions to maintain his enigmatic status.  This back story is utterly lacking in the film.

 

 

Whilst Hispanic actresses like Salma Hayek have seen great success, lesser know Hispanic actresses struggle to get roles outside of maids, so seeing roles written as Hispanic award to Caucasian women can be frustrating.

Whilst Hispanic actresses like Salma Hayek have seen great success, lesser know Hispanic actresses struggle to get roles outside of maids, so seeing roles written as Hispanic awarded to Caucasian women can be frustrating.

What the move does better is lend motivation to the present day narrative.  Driver befriends a single mother named Irene and comes to care very much for her and her child. In the novel, when the child’s father returns from prison, Driver begins working ‘jobs’ with him.  In the film there is a clear motivation for this, while the film also does an interesting job creating tension between the two men in Irene’s life.  The heist gone wrong is also more interesting in the film, though it is effective in the novel as well.  The film creates a more interesting narrative surrounding the money, and also does a better job of demonstrating the driving skill of the Driver (though the novel goes into more detail with the stunt driving).  The only issue I take with the film is how it turns the Hispanic Irene in the novel into a Caucasian woman (Carey Mulligan).  Obviously, when you get the opportunity to work with a talent like Mulligan, you take it, but still, it seems like there are not enough roles for Hispanic women and to see Hollywood casting a Caucasian woman in a role written for a Hispanic can be seen as problematic.

 

The talented and beautiful Carey Mulligan, star of the film adaptation of "Drive".

The talented and beautiful Carey Mulligan, star of the film adaptation of “Drive”.

If you are a fan of pulp novels and crime fiction, Drive is a perfect for an afternoon reading (I got the book done in a couple hours, which is uncommon for me).  If you need a little more ‘literary merit’, this may not be what you are looking form.  Sallis’s prose is not on a par with William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy, but it is entertaining.

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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