In The Full Ridiculous, a novel by Australian author Mark Lamprell, Michael O’Dell goes for a jog one morning and is hit by a car. The book is about the aftermath of that incident and how it impacts him and his family.
The back of the book displays this quote:
The important thing is to position yourself so you go over the car when it hits. If you go under, most likely you get stuck on some sticky-out bit of the engine, dragged along and de-skinned, then kidney-squishingly, eye-poppingly, brain-squeezingly run over by one or more wheels. You go over, at least you’ve got a chance if you land right.
I should tell you that this isn’t really what the book is about. It’s about a guy who’s struggling and just trying to be a decent father and husband when it feels like his life is falling apart.
That’s what the book is about, but it’s not quite how I read it. Why? I was hit by a car when I was fourteen years old. And not just a little bit. I was in the hospital for two weeks, in a wheelchair for a month and on crutches for another month.
I’m not looking for sympathy, so you know. As a teenager I didn’t mind the attention. And I learned a lot from the experience, like what it’s like to be unable to walk (temporarily). I actually had to learn to walk again because my leg didn’t take to it again naturally. Most of us don’t think about what it means to put one foot down in front of the other.
Lamprell’s writing is vivid and it really drew me in. I didn’t imagine someone could write about being hit by a car in a way that would feel real to me, but he did:
You realize you can’t move. You can’t move anything but your head. And then you feel this thing you haven’t felt as clearly or simply since you were a child. You feel really sorry for you.
You start to cry. You cry like a little boy who’s been beaten for something he didn’t do. And you’re sad. Deeply, purely sad.
Shoes gather around you. That’s all you can see because you can’t move, you can’t fucking move, and you can’t turn your fucking fuck fuck fuck head. Black-stockinged calves lower into your view. There is a small ladder, just below the right knee. A woman’s hand grasps your right wrist. She tells you she’s a doctor and she’s taking your pulse. Her voice is kind and smart. You do not ask her whether you will be okay because you are afraid of the answer.
In a way I wasn’t expecting, this book forced me to relive my experience and think about some of the short-term and lasting repercussions. Clearly, that’s not what’s intended by this author. Really, this is a light, semi-humorous, family drama with some dark moments. It’s described as similar to The Rosie Project and The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I found it reminded me of a Jonathan Tropper novel. O’Dell is a character you’ll sympathize with, one who tries to do right by his family but gets it wrong a lot. His kids and his wife felt pretty real to me. I was expecting a lot of drama but what you get is a family that really cares about each other.
It’s well written — humorous and emotional without overdoing it — although the use of second person can be quite distracting. There’s one plot point that drove me a little crazy, where Michael finds out he may be facing some serious health issues, and he doesn’t tell anyone. But that’s a pretty small thing.
You seem to have slipped into an alternative universe, an Alice-less Wonderland of mad hunters and random outcomes. A surge of panic dries your mouth. You get up and pour yourself a glass of water at the gleaming new stainless-steel double-bowled kitchen sink. You look into the frosty blackness of the freshly glazed kitchen window, fully expecting a monster to lunge at you. Instead the terrible secret flashes its ugly truth once again: The good part of your life is over. The bad part has begun.
I can tell you about the book, but I can’t possibly explain how reading this book made me feel. I found myself comparing Michael’s experience to my own. He gets out of the hospital pretty quickly, where I was in for two weeks. On the flip side, he has a job, a mortgage, and teenage children to deal with while he recovers. I got a two month vacation from high school.
Here’s the big difference: Michael remembers being hit; I don’t. My memory closed a door the day I was hit and didn’t re-open until a day or two later. I know what I’ve been told, but not what I actually experienced. Although I’ve imagined it so often it’s hard to be sure what is memory and is not. After the accident my greatest fear – aside from crossing streets – was that I would start to remember what it felt like. Would the memories appear in nightmares, or come in little dribs and drabs at random moments? Or would I just wake up one day and know exactly what happened?
The memories are still buried, and probably always will be. Although they assert themselves every once in a while when I see someone get hit onscreen or when I’m crossing a street and a car approaches too fast. I’m also unusually squeamish – I can’t watch any kind of injury or surgery on TV.
It was really interesting to me that Michael, whose injuries are minimal, explores therapy to resolve the issues raised by the accident. It’s hard to know how being hit by a car has impacted me. Am I a more nervous driver? Or a more nervous person in general? Or maybe the reverse is true, and facing possible death at a young age makes you stronger. It’s a story to tell, a badge. The Frankenstein scar on my leg tells the world I survived.
As I read part of me kept thinking, why are you doing this to yourself? But I kept reading and I’m glad. It felt kind of good to confront things I hadn’t thought about in a long time.
Sorry to write such an about-me review. I just couldn’t write about this book any other way.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Counterpoint/Soft Skull in exchange for an objective review.