Noir writer Megan Abbott and Los Angeles Review of Books noir editor Boris Dralyuk discuss James Sallis's latest, Driven, a sequel to Drive, the novel made into last year's film by the same name, starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
MEGAN: I FINISHED DRIVEN a few days ago and have been wrestling with my reaction ever since. There were moments of brilliance (no one can spin a sentence like Sallis), but I struggled with the sense of having been here already (I won't use the word "retread") — the inevitable sequel problem perhaps unfairly intensified by the fact that I recently re-read Drive and saw (and loved) the movie. I fear the fault is with me. And, of course, it's a double challenge to fashion a sequel to a quintessentially noir novel, which is already dependent on a feeling of doomed inevitability.
BORIS: I'll lay my cards on the table: I loved it. In some ways, it's undeniably a retread — but when your canvas is a two-lane blacktop, you're sure to end up spinning your wheels a good chunk of the time. The moments of brilliance were worth it for me. I'm really taken with this vapid sociopath's-eye view of our late-late capitalist desert landscape.
I keep thinking about the wonderful thing Fredric Jameson noticed in Chandler — those paranoid intermezzi, when Marlowe notices a housewife peeking through the blinds over her kitchen window. Sure, she may be a killer. That's perfectly reasonable in Marlowe's world. But she almost never is. She's just a housewife, peeking through the blinds. The problem is the blinds themselves, and the seedy barrier they represent. I'm just going to transcribe it:
I find my neighbor unlocking his mailbox; I have never seen him before, we glance at each other briefly, his back is turned as he struggles with the larger magazines inside. Such an instant expresses in its fragmentary quality a profound truth about American life, in its perception of the stained carpets, the sand-filled spittoons, the poorly shutting glass doors: all testifying to the shabby anonymity which is the meeting place between the luxurious private lives that stand side by side like closed monads, behind the doors of the private apartments: a dreariness of waiting rooms and public bus stations, of the neglected places of collective living that fill up the interstices between the privileged compartments of middle-class living. Such a perception, it seems to me, is in its very structure dependent on chance and anonymity, on the vague glance in passing, as from the windows of a bus, when the mind is intent on some more immediate preoccupation: its very essence is to be inessential.
Those moments, available to us due to Marlowe's heightened sense of awareness (ok, paranoia), are, according to Jameson, unavailable to great li...read more