This blog post is about Matt Richtel’s A Deadly Wandering. Spoilers Ahead.
I want to start with the book as a whole. I realized about 100 pages in that this book is about attention. Not just the story (that I realized far earlier than 100 pages), but the physical book itself is about attention. The way Richtel broke the story up into different chapters that each focus on a different character made it a little difficult to read. It wasn’t so difficult that I didn’t understand the story, but it took more energy to pay attention to all of the details. Maybe Richtel did this on purpose, maybe he didn’t, but it was something I noticed that fit the theme of the book very well. The book is testing the reader’s attention.
Let’s move onto the title of this blog post. “He was a one-hander.” (pg. 20) This sentence jumped out at me. If Rindlisbacher didn’t notice this one small detail he probably wouldn’t have looked further into the case. This is something Richtel needed to add. This was the start of everything. It sparked Rindlisbacher’s doubt of Reggie’s story.
A part of this book that really worked for me is how it was written in such a story-telling way. If I didn’t know it was non-fiction I would believe it was a story that Richtel made up.
“After a harrowing day, it was Rindlisbacher’s habit to talk about it, not bury it deeper. Things were so-so with his wife, Judy. He’d not been able to give… he sat down with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Allison.” (pg.55).
The beginning of this chapter demonstrates Richtel’s story-telling way of writing. It sounds like a fiction novel. He gives us so much information about all of the characters. We as readers don’t need to know Rindlisbacher’s home life, or Terryl’s hard past to understand Reggie’s case, but it helps us understand the reason why these characters acted the way they did. We know Reggie’s accident hit home for Rindlisbacher. That is why he had a conversation with his daughter about safe driving. We know Terryl understands what it’s like to live as a victim, so she becomes a victims advocate. All of this extra information adds to the story in a good way. I loved the extra information, and I appreciate the extra work Richtel put into getting it.
The language Richtel uses when speaking about the personal lives of each character is spot on. The line “And then there was a pitter-patter of feet, and Stephanie crawled into bed and they sort of slept the rest of the night under the robe that smelled like Daddy.” (pg. 59) The way he uses the little girl’s language, saying “Daddy” instead of “Jim” hit me in the heart. I can’t imagine the pain these two must have felt, and that line made me realize this is a story about a little girl who lost her dad because a kid couldn’t put his phone down.
Richtel does a really good job of incorporating the science/medical research into the book. He makes all of it easy to understand. I know many people who are writing about this book have mentioned the “cocktail party effect” (pg. 69). This is because it is something everyone can relate to. Everyone who has been to a party, or just a place where many people are talking at once, will understand what its like to be having a conversation with one person while trying to listen in on another. I know I’ve been in this situation, and I understood how this relates to attention, multitasking and Reggie’s car accident. Also, I hate to call it an accident, it’s a car crash (right Joanne?). As Dr. Gazzaley puts it, “Distraction…is a powerful weapon.” (pg. 71).
Richtel keeps reminding us about attention throughout the novel by weaving the science/medical information chapters with the story chapters. When he explains that “Researchers were trying to measure the ability of pilots and soldiers to sustain their focus while operating the advanced weaponry.” (pg. 99). This is texting and driving maximized. I imagined a fighter pilot trying to multitask while flying a speeding plane through the air and it made me dizzy. Obviously this paints a picture for the reader. It gives another example of multitasking gone bad. It proves people shouldn’t be operating any machinery while trying to focus on other things, like reading a screen.
I went chronologically through the book and took out the parts that jumped out at me and then wrote about them here. I wanted to talk about what affected me. I mentioned some of the lines that hit me hard. Other parts that struck me were about the physical trauma Jim and Keith went through in the accident. Eyes popping out of their sockets, brains on the backseat of the car, there are real things that happened because Reggie was texting and driving. These details aren’t something Richtel made up. I hope these details hit others as hard as they hit me. I hope the people reading this who text and drive think hard about their actions. I hope those people stop texting and driving. My mother once told me our family mini van was a “3000 pound killing machine.” I laughed at the time, thinking she was being overdramatic, how could something that is so important to people’s lives be so dangerous? Now I realize she was being very realistic. Driving while distracted is no joke, and its a huge problem in our society. I can name multiple people I know who do it. I’ve been in the car with them. I always scold them and taken their phones away. Sending that text to your friend or finding the perfect song for your drive isn’t worth it if it means you can potentially kill others and yourself. With all of the technology we have today (GPS, smart phone maps, voice activated texting, bluetooth in cars, ect) it is so easy to use your phones while driving. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
If you would like to watch it, here is the AT&T video discussed in chapter 50: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzwYe7cq_OQ