Comparing a brand-new novel against an established piece of media is often tempting, but can be far from accurate without casting a broader lens. Your Driver is Waiting by Priya Guns has been described endlessly as a gender-bent Taxi Driver. And while there are similarities between the debut novel and the Robert DeNiro movie, the comparison is somewhat misleading. This doesn’t detract from the quality of Your Driver is Waiting, far from it, but distracts from the true highlights of the book. Rather than a propulsive plot, this novel shines for its sharp writing and attention to detail. A closer comparison would be other recent works of literature, such as Sarah Thankam Mathews’s All This Could Be Different or Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl. These comparisons shed light on the adept characterization and social commentary of the novel, while retaining its innate sense of excitement.
Your Driver is Waiting centers Damani, a young South Asian woman living with her mother and eking out a living as a Rideshare driver. Damani is a rough-edged young woman with a passion for weightlifting and a strong independent streak, but loves just as fiercely as she lives. She is attentive to her disabled mother, loyal to her friends, and is still overwhelmed by the recent loss of her father. Inextricable from Damani’s plight is the influence of class. She makes far from a living wage at Rideshare, yet she needs the flexibility to attend to her mother. Her father’s passing was the direct result of him overextending himself for little pay at a fast food restaurant. Luckily, Damani’s friends are a tight-knit community of activists who look out for one another, and even in the nights alone driving around a bevy of customers, she is far from lonely. Things come to a head when Damani meets the alluring Jolene, a wealthy white woman and eventual love interest, but the fundamental differences between the two lead to catastrophic events.
An obvious highlight in the writing is how well Guns portrays the whirlwind nature of a new romance, the all-consuming feelings of being caught up in another person, trying to figure out who they are, as well as learning about oneself in their presence. These initial chapters of Your Driver is Waiting are utterly joyous, as these small moments of happiness in Damani’s life seem to overpower the tragedies around her. Yet there’s enough tension that we’re fearful for this happiness, it truly feels on the edge of believability, and when all crashes down things feel both sudden and inevitable.
It is in this chaos moment, featuring an especially fraught conversation between Damani, her friends, and Jolene, that things begin to thin out. While themes of social justice and activism pervade the novel, they come to a head in this portion, and the conversation feels jarring and unprecedented by the conversations beforehand. For all the subtlety and beauty of the first half, the tonal change is abrupt and the dialogue steps into ‘on the nose’ territory. Class conflict and social justice can certainly enter the forefront of a character-driven novel, but Your Driver is Waiting does so abruptly, and sets the tone for a breakneck pace and numerous narrative leaps in the second half of the novel.
Where the Taxi Driver comparisons can be made is in this second half, when in Damani’s desperate attempt to regain control of a chaotic situation, she makes a series of rash decisions. And while she may be justified in many of these, we lose some of the interiority and thoughtfulness that would have provided much-needed context, in order to make way for a much faster pace. The conclusion of the novel, as a result, lacks emotional resonance and does not match the promise of the early chapters. Nevertheless, Your Driver is Waiting is a sharp, satisfying read with characters worth noticing and biting commentary on capitalism, community, allyship—terms often seen now as buzzwords due to their overuse. Priya Guns contextualizes them all by centering a strong, compelling protagonist and how her identity interacts with each of these ideas, and for this alone, Your Driver is Waiting belongs firmly in the recent wave of critically-acclaimed messy Millennial novels.
Your Driver Is Waiting
By Priya Guns
Published February 28, 2023
Malavika Praseed is a writer, book reviewer, and genetic counselor. Her fiction has been published in Plain China, Cuckoo Quarterly, Re:Visions, and others. Her podcast, YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and various other platforms