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Road Rage Can Be Brutal

Driven is the aptly named sequel to the 2005 James Sallis book, Drive.  If you haven’t read Drive or seen the film adaptation of the same name, by Nicolas Winding Refn, treat yourself and do one or the other, or both.  It may be beneficial to have some prior knowledge of either for this review, but it’s not essential.

Admittedly, I didn’t even know James Sallis existed until I saw the trance inducing, hyper-violent, awkward Ryan Gossling character piece of a film.  It captivated me enough to dig to its roots.  What I found was Sallis’ equally violent, equally somber novella of the same name lying there waiting for me to breeze through its sparsely worded pages and refresh the satisfaction I felt after seeing the movie, while I waited for the DVD release.

Essentially the story and theme of both mediums is the same, save for the book being a little darker and containing a few more scenes of violence.  I can’t really imagine anyone being too offended with Ryan Gossling’s portrayal of “Driver” even if he manages to throw in a lot of his shy guy charm.  Anyway, I’ll stop talking about how the movie compares to the book and start with the review of Driven.

Driven picks up 7 years after the bloody conclusion of Drive.  In what I’ve come to understand as typical Sallis style, the book opens with the bone dry description of Driver’s (now going by the alias, Paul West) wife being murdered and the quick, bone breaking, choke out retaliation he exacts on the attackers.  Initially it seemed as though he had escaped the inescapable crime family he had so viciously removed members from in the previous installation.  As the story progresses though, Driver can’t shake the feeling that he’s being pursued because of his involvement in the death of Bernie Rose and his partner Nino, despite having stepped on the toes of presumably hundreds of other criminals with varying degrees of power over the years.

The bulk of the Driven story is hunter/hunted, unknown men driving suspiciously, visceral violence, accurate (sounding) descriptions of cars (I don’t know much about cars) and piecing together any clues Driver can obtain from the last words of his pursuers.  Sallis offers a non-complex story because it doesn’t need complexity.  The point of view is 3rd person, but it’s mostly restricted to Driver himself.  Instead of presupposing things about the people pursuing him, or getting too heavy with investigation, he simply moves along his straight line and waits for his enemies to divulge their motives.  There are a few twists and turns, but the focus is always just getting to that last guy that wants Driver dead and making sure he doesn’t want him dead anymore (which usually means violent confrontation, but always reactionary in nature.)

If you want a quick read that doesn’t sit around and ponder the consequences of an individuals actions, Driven would be a good one to pick up.  Sallis’ writing isn’t over the top and always sounds cultured but not too sophisticated. He’ll take you on a brutal ride through the desert to the grime coated haunts of the antisocial protagonist.  Just like in real life, some of the relationships that you want to develop will be cut short and some bonds will grow through unforeseen circumstances, but unlike most peoples lives, Driver’s relationships are always tainted by bloodshed and suspicion. - Kevin, Interlibrary Loan

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