Driver, the damaged main character of this minimalist noir novel, works as a stunt man by day and as the driver of getaway cars at night. Purely pragmatic, he has no real dreams and no long-term goals, the result of his violent childhood, which was not a childhood at all. No one gets close to him, though he occasionally shows signs that he has some feelings for other damaged creatures. When it comes to his work, however, he is all business--"I don't know anyone, I don't carry weapons. I drive."
Opening dramatically with Driver leaning against a wall in a Motel 6 room, his arm wounded so badly it is useless, with three dead bodies around him, the novel repeats these images like a bizarre refrain, as the background for this scene and the action which follows it are revealed. In terse prose, as efficient in conveying information as Driver is in killing those who threaten him, Sallis follows Driver as he moves between Los Angeles and Phoenix, doing jobs. Episodes from his life hit the reader with the force of gunfire and in random order, connected not by transitions but through the character and violent background of Driver as his life unfolds. Scenes from Driver's film assignments overlap with scenes from his real life, sometimes inspiring Driver to reminisce or to try to look forward to see how and why he ended up where he is.
Actions speak louder than words here, but the dialogue, when it occurs, is memorable and dramatic. Scenes in which Driver tries to visit his estranged mother and later his foster family are intensely moving because they emphasize an emotional connection which is otherwise lacking in his life. He is intelligent, and he keeps trying to communicate with people through words, though the circumstances of his life are almost entirely violent. He has no dreams, forced to believe instead in a brutal reality--he is Borges, the writer/realist, not Don Quixote, the tilter at windmills, he notes. "I don't think [however], our lives are thrust upon us," he explains in one conversation. "What it feels like to me is, they're forever seeping up under our feet."
A dramatic, thoughtful, and powerfully moving examination of the life of someone who has few choices, this novel transcends its darkness and violence to show the continuing desire for connection even among life's most violent people. Mary Whipple