Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book references in books

I've  just read my first James Sallis novel, Drive, and I can see why Ken Bruen likes this guy. Both authors wear their influences on their sleeve, filling the protagonist's ears and bookshelves with the author's favorite music and crime novels.

George Pelecanos makes it into books by both writers, and Sallis himself finds a place in Bruen's London Boulevard, next to Elmore Leonard, Charles Willeford, John Harvey, Andrew Vachss and, naturally, Jim Thompson.

"Driver," the unnamed protagonist of Drive sleeps, for at least one night, next to a nightstand crowded with Richard Stark, John Shannon, and Gary Phillips, in addition to the Pelecanos. Drive's musical references include the jazz guitarists Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson and lo, Sallis has written at least three books about jazz guitar and guitarists.

Quite naturally, given my other recent reading, Sallis also has a character invoke Paul Celan in a conversation that also includes Borges and Don Quixote.

Your question:  If you've read Drive, what do those references add? If you have not, what kind of novel do you think it is, based on this selection of its literary and musical references?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

He is a very elegant writer. Maybe less in this novel than some of the others (Cripple Creek novels and the insect ones) and in various shorts I have read.

February 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He's pretty elegant in this one. He veers toward the precious a time or two, trying a bit too hard for emotional impact to end chapters. And his very occasional political observations can be obtrusive and overly broad. (In one book of which I read a short selection online, he even has a character use the word society, as in that big thing out there on which characters or narrators can blame problems without having to analyze them.)

But those are quibbles; I read Drive in one sitting. I sometimes wonder, in the case of books like this so chock full of artistic references how a reader who does not recognize the references will take them. Is the novel's atmosphere so persuasive that the reader will readily accept the unfamiliar names as exemplars of the mood of the story, or will the reader get annoyed and ask, "WHo the hell are those guys?"

February 10, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

I never read this but saw the movie which was great!

He most also be a guitar player, or big fan, to mention the great Lonnie johnson. Not like you are going to learn about him on the radio.

I have been meaning to read Sallis for sometime now. have to get him on my TBR pile!!

February 11, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

Ha..somehow i missed that he has written about jazz players!!

Have to read these also!

February 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think I learned about Sallis' music writing when he was introduced at a conference I attended. I then looked for references to the books when I made the post. If I recall correctly, at least one of the books was issued by a university press, so I figure he has some scholarly chops. One of the three books traces the guitar in American music from blues through jazz and rock and roll, so he's apparently no musical snob, wither.

February 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I watched a good chunk of the movie, which led me to a copy of the book I;d had for a while. The movie, of which I haven't seen the whole thing yet, structures and orders events differently from the way the book does. I note this especially because of a line in the novel about a movie on which "the Driver" is working:

"In the book, Sean came to Boston. The movie people changed it to L.A. What the hell. Better streets. And you didn't have to worry so much about weather."

The movie also has a near-obligatory scene of "Driver," Irene (changed from the novel's Irena), and the kid driving along the cemented-over Los Angeles River. The novel contains no such scene.

Come to think of it, our friend Adrian McKinty would get a kick out of "Driver"'s description of the book whose setting was changed from Boston to Los Angeles:

"This was one of those Irish novels where people have horrible knockdowndragouts with their fathers, ride around on bicycles a lot, and occasionally blow something up. ... Driver'd had some killer sequences in the movie once the hero smuggled himself out of north Ireland to the new world (that was the book's title, Sean's New World), bringing a few hundred years' anger and grievance with him. "

February 11, 2013  

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