Book Review: The Drift

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by John Ridley

    Publication Date: Sep 17, 2002
    List Price: $24.00
    Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
    Classification: Fiction
    ISBN13: 9780375411823
    Imprint: Knopf
    Publisher: Penguin Random House
    Parent Company: Bertelsmann

    Read a Description of The Drift

    Book Reviewed by Thumper

    Without getting a chance to miss him after the publication of his magnificent Conversation With The Mann, John Ridley delivers a second, equally splendid, novel, The Drift. This is a suspense novel that features an unlikely protagonist in a twisted game of survival, murders, and is told in a narrative style that approaches greatness. The Drift is a marvel and John Ridley is a breath away from being a literary phenomenon.

    Brain Nigger Charlie — the former Charles Harmon, tax attorney — is a black hobo who rides the rails, dumpster dives for food, and, with the help of Lady E and Lady K (ecstasy and Ketamin, an animal tranquilizer), does not sleep. Charlie is asked by his mentor to find his 17-year-old niece, who left home to live the hobo life. Charlie has to ride the rails of the High Line, the most racist tracks in the country, through dehumanizing conditions and dead bodies to find the girl in order to repay a debt of honor in a place where no honor exists.

    The Drift is a suspense novel that delivers a taste of a society where life is lived on a primitive level, gritty, rough, and severe. The Drift takes place in a strange world that spins without the pretense of political correctness, high brow politics, and civilized disagreements. The Drift is a platform where Ridley brought forth humanness, the beautiful, fiery and disfigured.

    Brain Nigger Charlie is a work of art, a whole character equipped with jagged edges, complexity, dimensions, and a broken soul, and is unforgettable. As much as he would deny it, he had an underlining of kindness, which he tried to disguise under a hard-hearted, blatantly callous disregard. His inability to maintain his hard shell makes Charlie, and his tale, easy to embrace.

    Ridley took me to a world I had no clue existed — that of a train-hopping hobo. Gone is my image of the lovable tramp with torn, patched clothes, shoes falling apart, and his world’s belongings bundled in a huge handkerchief tied to a stick, while he whistled a happy tune. Ridley painted a violent way of life, one where inhuman depravity is the norm and acts of kindness are rare. Although The Drift didn’t wallow in brutality, the violence was always there, skimming the surface, ready to explode on a nanosecond’s notice. Undetectably, Ridley injected a tension into the story that became palpable as Charlie’s account and grew tighter as the book progressed. Combine these elements with a rich plot, excellent dialogue, wonderful timing, and unabashed cruelty. The result is that by the end of the novel, I was emotionally strapped to the front of a speeding runaway locomotive that had jumped its tracks.

    As I became more involved in the story, I noticed the graceful, near poetic, narrative style Ridley used to relate this tale. Ridley used space to form a unique rhythm, one that considers the cadence of the voice of the narrator. I was captivated.

    The novel’s conclusion rendered me speechless. I had to re-read it a couple of times to make sure that I got IT! What I’m about to say may be considered bragging, and, so be it, but I’m not easily fooled when it comes to mystery/suspense novels. But the culprit in The Drift evaded my detection and hard-earned craftiness. I was struck dumb. Ridley got one over on me.

    The Drift is a nothing short of a masterpiece. Ridley continues to write mature, smart novels, and stands out as one of his best. Before I read The Drift or Conversation with The Mann, I would have classified Ridley’s previous novels in the same sassy, light-mystery vein as Elmore Leonard’s novels. The manner in which he wove the words together for The Drift is poignant and lyrical, and enters the lofty realms where William Faulkner and Toni Morrison reigns. The Drift is remarkable.

    Related Links

    The Negro-Cons’ Deal with the Devil: Honorary White Status in Return for Abandoning Fellow Blacks by Lloyd Williams
    In reaction to John Ridley’s article in December’s Esquire Magazine; Kam Williams, shares his thoughts:


    Conversation with the Mann by John Ridley - Book Review

    Read Knopf’s description of The Drift.

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