Drive by James Sallis became a movie. That’s how I first heard of it. The movie was incredible and when I learned it was based on a novel, there was only one thing I could do. That’s how I discovered James Sallis.
There are so many things I can say about this book. James Sallis created one of the more enigmatic characters of the last decade and wrote it in such a beautiful, poetic style. The only criticism that the novella seems to receive is related to the seemingly jumbled timeline the narrative follows. While the story is from its time, where many authors challenged the chronological plot form, there is a substantive reason Sallis does this. He does this to display the jumbled nature of the self and how it interacts with the world. Several times, Sallis insists that time simply exists, simply as we exist within an unchanging world as unchanging characters. He employs a messy timeline to show how Driver, as a modern cowboy, decides his own fate.
It can be argued that Driver’s moral code is thwarted when he begins to kill, but it was always in him to kill. But I’m not writing this to talk about that. I am interested in thinking about the role choice plays in how we live and die but there is a more metaphysical and emotional portion passage in the book that blows my mind whenever I think about it.
It is about when Driver finally finds peace and he is recounting this moment in his head. More like peace erupts within him. A kind of nirvana. But as Sallis puts it...
“Then a great peace came over him. He opened his eyes one day and there it was. He opened his eyes and one day and there it was, waiting, miraculous. A balloon in his heart.”
-James Sallis, Drive
The moment is mysterious. It’s the one secret that humans will never know. And in a book about an unchanging world and an unchanging character there is still hope that you may find the secret. You cannot ever predict the moment where you find this kind of relief, but it’s become an obsession for not only me, but plenty others.
The bands MGMT and Tame Impala have both made songs about this balloon-like moment. Fragile and impossible. Is it because we are spiritually bankrupt people? I am not even sure what it means to be spiritual or religious, but so many claim it holds the truth. Is there merit to what they are saying?
I am spiritually bankrupt. I’ll admit that. But I have an unfulfillable longing for that fleeting feeling of peace. Sometimes we find it in books or movies or music, so does that count as spirituality? It may be that a search for a secret truth is not a religious endeavor, but a human one. It is what defines our art and our science.
The cynical realization is that the search for the truth is just a biological device divined for survival. But let’s not be cynical.
This has gotten off topic. All in all, Drive is a great book that everyone should read. James Sallis is a wonderful author. The little pieces of wisdom that he hides in his work is just as much of a reason to read as is the action. You’ll find yourself asking questions like these.
One last thing, the soundtrack for the movie is the best soundtrack out there.