3.5 out of 5 stars.
Author Tess gets a flat on her way home from a speaking engagement. A man stops, pretending to help her before raping and leaving her for dead. Tess escapes and plans her revenge.
Don’t read “Big Driver” unless you’re willing to deal with horrific, graphic depictions of rape. During my first read, I didn’t know if I could get through it. I was terrified and couldn’t seen any way out for Tess. I didn’t know what King was doing; I didn’t trust him. I may not like anything about this story, but I admire any artist who can push me into such unease. Seeing a movie in a theater and realizing you don’t trust the director (How far is he willing to go? How graphic is this going to get?) is an amazing experience. Why? I have no good answer. Read King’s Danse Macabre for explanations better than any I can give.
The second half of “Big Driver” relies too heavily on conversations between Tess and the invented characters in her head. It feels like lazy writing on King’s part (a protagonist needing outside voices to push her in the right directions instead of putting things together/making decisions for herself).
 1922 let the violent plot-cat out of the bag in the first paragraph (“I murdered my wife (…) My son (…) aided me in this crime”). “Big Driver” begins mild, placid and unassuming. And then King slips this in:
What she really liked to do was drive. After her Chicopee appearance, this struck her as funny… but not funny in a way that made you laugh. No, not that kind of funny at all.
Fifteen hundred was more than fair. Of course when she was lying in a culvert, coughing out blood from her swollen mouth and nose, it didn’t seem fair at all. But would two thousand have been any fairer? Or two million?
Whether or not you could put a price tag on pain, rape, and terror was a question the Knitting Society ladies had never taken up.
So now we know what’s going to happen to Tess, but not how or when. Without this foreshadowing, the next ten pages would be bafflingly mundane. Instead we’re set on edge, waiting. It’s an effective ploy.
“Better a straight shot through Robin Hood’s barn than all the way around it.”
According to thefreedictionary.com:
“All around Robin Hood’s barn” is an idiom meaning going somewhere by an indirect route; going out of the way.
Les affairs du livre usually had four well-defined acts.
French: The affairs of the book
Hope to see you at Lake Toxaway again this summer!
Lake Toxaway is the largest privately held lake in North Carolina. The lake, developed by the Lake Toxaway Company, is man-made and covers 640 acres. The shoreline is 14 miles. The lake was filled originally in 1902.
Richard Widmark (1914 – 2008) was an American film, stage and television actor and producer. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his debut film, Kiss of Death (note ).
“Stagg Road and US 47 [in Massachusetts].”
There are several Stagg Drives in Massachusetts, but no Stagg Road. US 47 exists in Massachusetts, but appears to end north of Chicopee, not south where Tess would have used it.
YOU LIKE IT IT LIKES YOU. Which was a slogan for what, exactly?
“7Up,” she said (…) That’s what it is.”
7 Up used “You Like It, It Likes You” as its first slogan (from 1936 – 1952).
A man in bib overalls and a gimme cap.
noun – (North American; informal) – a baseball cap that bears a company name or slogan and is given away for publicity purposes.
 Kingism; also used in End of Watch (note ), The Tommyknockers, “Riding the Bullet”, and probably more. Do people actually use this word?
“You didn’t think you were going to meet the Jolly Green Giant out here in the williwags, didja?”
According to OneLook Dictionary Search, williwags seems to have originated in New Brunswick, Canada as “willy-wags,” meaning boonies, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, etc.
As a lifelong New Englander, with half my family from Maine, I’ve never heard the term.
She tried to tell herself the scraps of wood meant nothing, stuff like that only meant something in the kind of books she didn’t write and the kind of movies she rarely watched: the nasty, bloody kind. It didn’t work. Which left her with two choices: She could either go on trying to pretend because to do otherwise was terrifying, or she could take off running for the woods on the other side of the road.
Somewhere people were listening to music and buying products online and taking naps and talking on phones, but in here a woman was being raped and she was that woman.
Tess realized he really might think she was dead. It was amazing, but could be true. And all at once she wanted very badly to live.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING COLEWICH TOWNSHIP
King invented Colewich for “Big Driver.”
The band launched into a perfectly adequate cover of an old Cramps song: “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog.”
“Can Your Pussy Do the Dog” was on the Cramps’ third full-length studio album, A Date with Elvis (1986).
The bad boys were mostly drug addicts hooked on eighties, which was what its many New England fans called OxyContin.
Oxycontin pills were (are?) green with “OC” printed on one side, “80” on the other.
The clerk had recommended a Smith & Wesson .38 model he called a Lemon Squeezer.
According to guns.com:
The Smith & Wesson Lemon Squeezer is a break-action revolver chambered in .38 Special, .38 S&W and .32 S&W. The gun is called “lemon squeezer” because when the user break-opens the frame it exposes the cylinder and resembles a lemon squeezer.
Look what happened to Farrah Fawcett: tabloid-fodder when some hospital employee blabbed.
I think this is referring to reports in April 2009 that Fawcett was in critical condition and at death’s door.
Doreen Marquis, doyenne of the Knitting Society.
noun – a woman who is the most respected or prominent person in a particular field.
 Fact Check:
Nell Gwyn, the famous Elizabethan actress, had had a bent nose. Tess was sure she had read that somewhere.
Nell Gywn (1650 – 1687) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys (Post 1, note ), she has come to be considered a folk heroine. She was the most famous Restoration actress.
I cannot find any reference to her having a bent nose. Also, the Elizabethan era was 1558 – 1603, before Gywn’s time. I won’t call this a mistake by King; it’s his character incorrectly recalling a piece of trivia.
Standing in the kitchen an hour and a half later. Her cereal bowl soaking in the sink. Her second cup of coffee growing cold on the counter. Talking on the phone.
King is very good at mixing up the style and rhythm of sentences to get different effects.
She felt a particular watchful happiness that seemed located not in her head but in the center of her chest. It was the way she felt when the strings of some outlandish plot actually started to come together, pulling tight like the top of a nicely crafted tote-bag. She always felt both surprised and not surprised when this happened. There was no satisfaction like it.
“He’s local, either Colewich or Nestor Falls.”
(p.186 – 187)
There is a Nestor Falls in Ontario, Canada but not in Massachusetts.
 Here is where “Big Driver” falls apart. King, struggling with the fact that Tess is onstage alone for much of this story, drops in a new element (50 pages in) and tries to tell us it’s been part of Tess all along: Tess has characters in her head (her cat, Tom-Tom, two dead men, Goober the dog).
This element takes over the story, as annoying as a spirit guide or ghostly adviser. “Big Driver” technically has no supernatural element, but these voices Tess pulls out of thin air are virtually paranormal in their knowledge and guidance. You want to get a character from point A to B and haven’t established proper motivation or knowledge? Have an inner guardian angel tell them what to do!
It would have worked better if, instead of Tess always having done this, it was a post-attack shock/coping mechanism. That way, we would be seeing a woman schism and talk herself into murder.
(note: “Tom” is Tess’s Tom-Tom GPS, programmed to use her name.)
“Hello, Tess,” Tom said. “I see we’re taking a trip.”
“Just home, Tommy-boy,” she said (…) “One stop on the way.”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, Tess, but you should be careful.”
If she had been home instead of in her car, Fritzy would have been the one to say this, and Tess would have been equally unsurprised. She had been making up voices and conversations since childhood, although at the age of eight or nine, she’d quit doing it around other people, unless it was for comic effect.
Again, this is something King needed to tell us early in the story, not nearly half the way through.
“Are you sure it was an accident?”
“What?” Tess jumped, startled. She had heard Tom’s words coming out of her mouth, spoken in the deeper voice she always used for the make-believe half of her make-believe conversations (it was a voice very little like Tom the Tomtom’s actual robo-voice), but it didn’t feel like her thought.
No. Because it’s King’s thought. Instead of working the story organically, through motivation and action, he’s going to feed Tess information to move the story along.
This other-voice is the only thing that stops Tess from killing herself:
Tess closed her eyes, tightened her finger on the trigger, and that was when Tom spoke up. It was strange that he could do that, because Tom was in her Expedition, and the Expedition was at the other brother’s house, almost a mile down the road from here. Also, the voice she heard was nothing like the one she usually manufactured for Tom. Nor did it sound like her own. It was a cold voice. And she – she had a gun in her mouth. She couldn’t talk at all.
(p.231 – 232)
The outside influences get out of control. We don’t see Tess come to any of this understanding, she’s simply told. It’s lazy storytelling.
“There’s no proof here.”
“Really?” Tom’s voice was so low Tess could barely hear it. “Go see.”
It was definitely one of those movies. Even the title told you so: Kiss of Death.
Kiss of Death (1947) is a film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark and Coleen Gray. The story revolves around an ex-con and his former partner-in-crime, Tommy Udo (played by Richard Widmark; note ).
When it came to the dark fuckery of the human heart, there seemed to be no limit.
A beautiful little line that could be the subtitle for Full Dark, No Stars.
Tess’s rapist was sitting behind the wheel of a shiny cab-over Pete.
Cab-over, also known as Cab Over Engine (COE), cab forward (U.S.), or forward control (UK), is a body style of truck, bus, or van that has a vertical front, “flat face” or a semi-hood, with the cab of the truck sitting above (or forward of) the front axle.
Pete is short for Peterbilt.
 How do you all feel about secrets being kept from the audience by the narration? It always feels gimmicky to me…
Upstairs again in the kitchen, she tucked her Swiss Army knife into the same pocket – the left. The right pocket was for the Lemon Squeezer .38… and one other item, which she took from the drawer next to the stove.
We find out what this item is eight pages later… and I have no idea why it was kept from us:
From the right front pocket of her cargo pants she removed the item she had taken from the kitchen drawer beside her stove. It was a quilted oven glove. It would silence a single pistol shot quite effectively.
We know Tess was willing to shoot her targets – King tells us she takes the Lemon Squeezer. So why keep the oven glove secret?
“Did you know?” Tess asked the man she had killed. She reached out to grab Strehlke’s arm, then drew away. It would still be warm under his sleeve. Still thinking it was alive.
Five years’ worth of Uncle Henry’s swap guide.
Also referenced in “A Good Marriage”:
“I put an add in Uncle Henry’s swap guide.”
Uncle Henry’s is an American online and printed classified adverts repository, printed in Augusta, Maine. It was established in 1969 and is published weekly on Thursdays. In addition to Maine, the printed version is available in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Brunswick, Canada.
The door squalled on unoiled hinges when she depressed the latch and pushed it open. An hour ago, such a squall would have terrified her into immobility. Now it didn’t bother her in the slightest. She had work to do. That was all it came down to, and it was a relief to be free of all that emotional baggage.
The pages of a grimy Blue Horse tablet.
A brand of composition notebooks from Montag Brothers’ Paper Company. According to Bob Cox’s Yesteryear, they were produced between the 1930s and 1970s.
Danny Vierra was saying, “Some Americans have a bowel movement only once every two or three days.”
According to modernmanna.org, Danny Vierra is the Director of Modern Manna Ministries and BellaVita Lifestyle Center.
Doreen also once took a leaf from Dorothy Sayers’s book and left a murderer with a loaded gun, telling him to take the honorable way out.
Dorothy Sayers (1893 – 1957) was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator, and Christian humanist. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between the First and Second World Wars that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.
TV Tropes gives several examples of Sayers using this trope (which they call “Leave Behind a Pistol”), but this seems the best fit:
In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Lord Peter and Colonel Marchbanks leave the murderer alone in the library with the Colonel’s loaded revolver.
It had been a Kate Spade, very pricey.
Kate Valentine (b.1962), formerly known as Kate Spade, is an American fashion designer and businesswoman. She is the namesake and former co-owner of the designer brand, Kate Spade New York.
Betsy had also bought two cans of Dr. Brown’s cream soda.
Dr. Brown’s is a brand of soft drink made by J & R Bottling. It is popular in the New York City region and South Florida, but can also be found in Jewish delicatessens and upscale supermarkets around the United States. Dr. Brown’s was created in 1869. In the early 1930s, before Coca-Cola received kosher certification, many Jewish people drank Dr. Brown’s. The variations include cream soda, black cherry, orange, ginger ale, root beer, and Cel-Ray (celery-flavored soda).