When I was 18, I was driving home from a friend’s house when I hit the ditch. It was -30 with the wind by midday. I got frostbite on my knees where the holes in my jeans were exposed. After hitting the ditch, I had to walk back to her place to get help. After making sure I was ok, the first thing her parents asked me was if I was texting and driving. When I got home and told my parents what happened, they too asked if I was texting and driving. I told them of course I wasn’t. My phone was actually dead, which is why I had to walk in order to get help.
It was the first thing everyone assumed because we now live in a culture that knows the dangers of distracted driving.
I hear that phrase a lot when a car accident happens; “Oh they must have been texting.”
It makes me wonder what it was like for Bart Rindlisbacher to stick with his gut instinct that Reggie was texting during the accident in a time when that wasn’t perceived as a danger.
On page 20, author Matt Richtel brings us right into that moment.
“He did it with one hand, held the phone and texted with his thumb. He was a one-hander.”
In that moment, I think Richtel grabbed his reader’s attention. I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of us our one-handers. Whether it’s during a class sneaking a peek when you’re not suppose to, or any situation where you’re doing two things at once, we typically use one hand on our phone. A Richtel captured this moment in his interview with Rindlisbacher.
For those of you who don’t know, A Deadly Wandering follows the story of nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw after he causes a car crash that kills two scientists Jim Furfaro and Keith O’Dell.
However, it’s not just about Reggie’s story. It’s about the grief of the Furaro’s and the O’Dell’s, the Shaw’s, Rindlisbacher’s investigation, Terryl Warner, the effect of technology on society. It’s about a much broader picture than one incident and Richtel leads us through it.
He doesn’t make it easy though.
The story line is hard to follow, and chapters are sandwiched between scientific research. The back and forth made it a difficult read and absorb information. I found it hard to keep track of characters and would lose interest often.
Richtel does display the importance of finding the impact and who’s effected in a story. He dissects one incident but finds people to relate the research to, like when we’re introduced to Terryl Warner in chapter four through eight. We learn about her childhood and the events that lead her to become a victim’s advocate.
I didn’t understand why Richtel introduced Terryl so early on and only connect her to the main plot in chapter 15 when she offers her condolences and help to Jackie. I think he could have connected the dots faster. Richtel does however capture incredible detail during Terryl’s chapters that made me connect to the character. For examples, on page 132 he writes, ” He ripped her hair, he tied her up. He said: “I’ll make it so no man will ever want to look at you again.” He held the clothes iron to the side of her face.”
Richtel includes a lot of these types of personal, difficult experiences from the people he interviews. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it could have been for to ask for details and it shows his professionalism as a journalist and his ability to make people feel comfortable enough to share their stories.
But chapter 16, I was once again, thrown out of the story and into my university lecture hall as I imagine Dr. Atchley and his struggle with not opening his laptop during a lecture.
“His wire-rimmed glasses were perched on his nose and his Macintosh laptop was shut beneath him.” (pg. 145)
I remember being that person in a science lecture scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, but not being ashamed of it because everyone else was doing the same. They’d be on their favourite online store browsing the ‘new in’ sections, texting their friends on their messenger app, some would even be watching Netflix.
Richtel interject these chapters into the story for the bigger picture. He’s relying on the readers being able to relate to the research in their personal life in order to understand and stay engaged.
Overall, I think Richtel did an exceptional job getting interviews, conducting research, and including details. However he took 50 chapters to say something that could have been done in 35, 25, maybe 20. I think his message and Reggie’s story is important for people to know and learn about but most wouldn’t make it to the end of the book.