Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Driver - part I - Introductory comments.

click here for E.H. Harriman's review in Time Magazine - 1923.

The Driver (1922) is interesting for many reasons:

  • The book is known as an Ayn Rand "relic", as there were some similarities between Rand's books and the elements and themes of The Driver.
  • The Driver focuses on economic cycles of "boom and bust." Many of the plot elements will sound familiar to those of us that lived through the stock market bubble of the 1990's.
  • The Driver is Garrett's most orthodox novel. Most of Garrett's other novels were more allegorical in nature. The Driver contained a more traditional plot.

(1) While The Driver has been the subject of much speculation over the years as it relates to Ayn Rand, such speculation is only partially valid. Having read The Driver, I found numerous elements that the book has in common with Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, including one nearly identical character name and some generally similar characters and plot lines. But the main plot of The Driver is unique and no language is identical among Garrett's work and Rand's. Rand's novels contained unique plots whose basic structure can be traced back to Rand's early writings such as Red Pawn.

While Ayn Rand may have been influenced by Garrett, the plots of her novels were far more developed and intricate than those of Garrett. Rand's novels conveyed more themes and delved more deeply into philosophy.

I will not reveal plot spoilers from the The Driver or what I call the various Rand relics that appear from time to time in the novel. Instead of trying to prove a point one way or another, simply enjoy each Rand relic as it appears. Consider yourself to be conducting an archeological dig, in which you unearth relics in the form of characters or events that presage some element of a Randian novel.

(2) The Driver centers on the immediate aftermath of the panic of 1893. Garrett does not propose solutions or advocate a position. Instead, he dramatized the steps taken by private individuals to deal with the crisis as it was. Garrett focuses on the ups and downs of one railroad in the aftermath of this panic. Keep in mind that Driver was written years before the Depression and more than a decade before the beginning of the New Deal. The idea of a government solution to this type of situation was not yet ingrained into our minds as it is today. In The Driver, calls for extreme government action form the background, while individual action by the hero forms the main plot. I wrote about the change in Garrett's focus following the New Deal in my review of Blue Wound (and some of the comments).

The Driver deals in fiction with some of the themes of the nonfiction Bubble that Broke the World. The Driver is much milder because Bubble was written at the height of the Depression around 1930. Driver was written almost 30 years after the panic of 1893, 15 years after the panic of 1907 and just as the bubble that eventually brought us the Depression was beginning. We can only wonder how the plot would be different (and sharper) had Garrett fully understood the momentous events that were only beginning to take shape as he wrote Driver.

(3) As I have written before, Garrett's novels often took the form of industrial novels:

I note here also that Garrett often writes extensively about industry. The railroad industry formed the backdrop for The Driver. Cinder Buggy was labeled "a fable of iron and steel." Satan's Bushel focused on agriculture - specifically wheat.

The Driver featured an active plot full of action, dialogue and characters - much more so than Satan's Bushel or Blue Wound. But Satan's Bushel and Blue Wound were more thought provoking than The Driver. Many modern readers blast through The Driver and cry "plagiarism" against Ayn Rand without understanding Garrett's deeper meanings. That mistake can't be made with Garrett's other novels.

The Driver - 1922 edition

As I mentioned before, I will review the book without revealing plot spoilers or the Ayn Rand relics. Half of the fun of reading The Driver is discovering the relics on one's own. I will focus, instead, on the deeper implications for the business cycle, for history and for our own times.

Click here for part II.

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