The Driver: He's Got Escorts in His Caddy. And That Ain't Good.by Greg D'Alessandro
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George Donato is an unemployed screenwriter, having just lost his staff-writing job on a cable sitcom. Desperate for cash, the neurotic George takes a job driving escorts - hired by an ex-con. George quickly learns the job is too dangerous (he’s officially a panderer), so he tries to quit, but the ex-con won’t have it. George continues driving escorts, falls in love with one - a sweet Brazilian, who dreams of being the next Warren Buffett. Things take a turn for the worse when George and his escort go the house of a famous sitcom star and witness a female studio head beating up the star. They escape the house, but find out the next day the sitcom star has been murdered. Soon, George becomes a suspect in the murder. Meanwhile, the Studio Head tries to buy George’s silence by offering him a six-figure deal on his animated children’s screenplay. George is caught in a moral vortex – should he lie and have a career or should he tell the truth and bring down a studio head? Lost in the underbelly of L.A., the only thing he can do is… keep on driving.
Like Elmore Leonard’s Hollywood novels GET SHORTY and BE COOL, THE DRIVER: AN LA STORY skewers an industry built on nonsensical hierarchies and the personalities that hold all of the power in the film industry—and have no intention of sharing it with a nobody like George. Unlike Leonard, however, D’Alessandro writes what he knows: back when he was a struggling, unemployed screenwriter, D’Alessandro took a last-resort job driving escorts for a busy Los Angeles escort agency. (All of the clients, including the not-so thinly-veiled bold-faced names, were actual agency clients.) Besides the obvious publicity value, this insiders look at the escort industry and the semi-autobiographical nature of the story gives THE DRIVER added commercial appeal.
With his self-deprecating (and frequently hilarious) quips, THE DRIVER has in George Donato an appealing protagonist with the same appeal as Lawrence Block’s comedic burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. (Two short summaries for future Donato books appear at the end of the manuscript.)
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THE DRIVER is a cure for the common summer doldrums. Few books make me laugh out loud or take me where I have never been - THE DRIVER does both. George Donato is such a likable protagonist, with all the foibles & self esteem issues we all know so well - but he is also heroic in a variety of ways that society increasingly dismisses. While the author dishes out some very humorous, light fare, the ride’s destination is the seamy underbelly of Hollywood and the proclivities of A-listers and the elite army that serves their special needs. There are no victims here (well, actually one…), just willing participants in a warped system of values and priorities. We meet teachers, aspiring scientists and otherwise ordinary citizens who succomb to the strain of life and grasp the ring of cash that is offered in a bizarre micro-economy. And the stars we worship – we find are unable to pursue conventional intimacy and instead elect “take out.” The escort industry characters we meet seem better off and more well adjusted than the stars they service, quite literally, but D’Alessandro also demonstrates that in their ‘success’ they too are lost and ultimately no better off than the stars above or the average Jose below them. Ultimately, we must rely on George to lead us in the right direction – and it’s clear the author has put much of himself into the character – but even good George can lose his direction. THE DRIVER is very far from a polemic on Hollywood or even the sex trade – it is firstly a comedy. But D’Alessandro smartly probes the gurgling mess of Tinseltown, bringing us close to its darkside – like a themepark ride - without bringing us down. He makes us laugh and smile at the window (a mirror to some) he provides on the human condition, with elements both universal and those peculiar to Hollywood. Bottom line - this seemingly lightweight conveyance is built on a solid chassis, steered by the deft hands of a driver we should all continue to watch. So here's to indy publishing and new voices! The only way to ensure the D'Alessandro's of the world can continue their craft is by stepping up and purchsing their books! Please follow my lead in this regard.
The last thing George Donato should be doing is worrying about the bald spot on the back of his head, but he can’t help it, it still causes him to second guess himself, even when he should be worrying about the other problems in his life, like the fact that his job just might end up killing him. George, or Francis as he goes by quite frequently in the novel, The Driver, by George D’Alessandro, is a tale about a wannabe scriptwriter who gets mixed up in the wrong kind of profession that he knows his mother would be ashamed of. He drives female dancers from one place to another, where they offer their services to men, take their fee, and get on the road again to their next client, with George at the wheel. George wants to quit once he realizes what he has gotten himself into, but he has no money, he’s scared of his new intimidatingly large boss, and he doesn’t want to leave the beautiful girl, Mariani, who is one of the dancers he drives, who he has fallen for. So he continues, driving his yellow caddy, performing his job like he is supposed to, until he and Mariani get themselves mixed up in a messy situation, which ends up leading to murder. Although the subject matter is rather dark, D’Alessandro has a talent for using comedy to relieve the tension in a lot of the scenes that take place in this book. As the protagonist, George’s voice is filtered through self-deprecating quips and interesting observations, which makes the reader warm up to the guy. Not only that, but George has to make many decisions based on what is right, and what is going to help him survive, that causes the reader to think about their own life choices. Since it is made clear that this book is based on D’Alessandro’s life experiences, the visuals and characters presented within its pages are very gritty and real, but sometimes all of the grit blocks out where a little bit more heart could have been beneficial.