Richard Elman’s novelization of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was a gift from my friend Nathan Boone, one I finally got around to reading this past week. I assume Elman was working from Paul Schrader’s original screenplay rather than the finished film—the rough framework of the story is still there, but a lot of the dialogue and descriptions of characters are different. Elman also delves a bit more into Travis Bickle’s military past, a detail that isn’t discussed much in the movie. Scorsese was wise enough to not lean too heavily on what was, even as early as 1976, a pretty well-worn stereotype. Elman informs his version of Travis with a considerable amount of PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that yet. At the conclusion of his meeting with “travelling salesman” Easy Andy, Travis says of his time in the service, “They’d never get me to go back. Never. They’d have to shoot me first. I’d never go back alive.”
The story is told from Travis’s perspective, often in a jittery, stream-of-consciousness ramble. It reads a bit like Catcher In The Rye as told by Rorschach. There’s one particularly haunting scene, not in the film, where Travis sees a man either falling to his death (presumably a suicide) from a high-rise building. It’s a recurring image that pops up now and again to good effect, embodying Travis’s state of mind and speaking to his own death wish. At 143 pages, composed of chapters that often only last two or three pages, Elman’s Taxi Driver can be read in a sitting or two. Without the accompanying visuals of Scorsese’s hellishly scuzzy, neon-streaked New York, or Robert DeNiro’s iconic performance, though, it’s little more than a lurid pulp thriller. It is, however, a portal right into Travis Bickle’s headspace, if for some reason you actually want to spend any more time in there.