** content warning: spoilers & content not typically related to my current blog topic**
A Deadly Wandering is a story that follows journalist Matt Richtel and Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old man who killed two scientists along the border of the Rocky Mountains while texting and driving.
Richtel refers to science often throughout the book to show what the consumption of media is doing to our brains on a daily basis. At first I thought it would be filled with “sciency jargon”, but Richtel did a great job of using metaphors and plain language to paint the picture for the reader. One of my favourite references in the book is when Dr. Gazzaley discusses the “cocktail party problem” on page 62.
“The cocktail party effect shows the limitations of attention; after all, you can’t pay attention to two conversations at once. In fact, it’s so limited that if you’re really listening to the person in front of you, there are generally only two things you can pick up in a different conversation: the gender of the person speaking or, in some cases, the sound of your name.”
Dr. Gazzaley further states that many people think they are able to multitask when really you’re only able to focus on one specific thing, not everything in your field of vision.
I found this interesting because in the beginning of the book Reggie denies that he was texting and driving and blamed the accident on the road conditions. Of course this could be possible, but it’s interesting because the accident happened during a time when people weren’t keeping statistics on how many accidents were caused due to texting and driving. Richtel’s decision to push forward and look into the science behind multitasking (or texting and driving) helped unfold the story.
I thought Richtel did a great job of showing objectivity because he discussed with Dr. Gazzaley how maybe people are able to multitask. On page 121, Richtel writes “Despite this research, Dr. Gazzaley believes this is a very open-ended question, and a crucial one. He thinks an argument can be made that the brain might be trained in its ability not just to attend but even to multitask. That’s another of the key emerging areas of science: Researchers explored the underlying mechanisms of focus, they also started to look at pushing the limits of attention. In other words, can the ability to focus, once more fully understood, be expanded? “Is there a limit to how good we can get?” Dr. Gazzaley asked…”
Richtel had to do a lot of digging to write this story. I don’t think these details distract from the narrative. I think they help provide context in the story. For example, on page 110 it reads, “In late October, Reggie took a job. It was at Murdock Chevrolet, a dealership two minutes from his house. That’s where the family had purchased the Chevy Tahoe Reggie had been driving the day of the accident, though he didn’t think much of that fact… Even though it was winter, Reggie wore gym shorts and a ratty, brown, hooded sweatshirt. Tyson, the outgoing detailer and a former running back and football teammate of Reggie, explained the ropes. In a small garage on the dealership property, the detailers used little blue rags to make spotless the used or new cars and ready them for sale. Brushes, screwdrivers, and spray bottles hung on small hooks along the walls.”
Richtel had to find out very specific details, which helped the story come to life. Without them, it would be dry and boring. Richtel uses these kinds of details throughout the entire story. I can’t imagine how long it would’ve taken to gather them all, but I think journalists can learn to gather these types of details to make their stories even better.
Another part I thought was well written were the characters in the story. Again, they were shown with a lot of detail. At the beginning of chapter three on pages 30-32, Richtel uses up the pages to describe Dr. Gazzaley. Many people might find this much detail too much, but I found it made me feel like I was in the story with the people. For example, on page 31 there is a paragraph that describes Dr. Gazzaley: “Dr. Gazzaley himself might pass for a hipster musician. He’s a youthful-looking forty-five, with short-cropped silver hair —not gray but silver—that looks like it’s been dyed to get attention, even though it’s been the same color since it prematurely aged in his early thirties. He wears a serpentine ring on his right index finger. He’s become friends not just with Mickey but also with the lead singer of Thievery Corporation, a rock band, as well as some of the tech billionaires who attend the late-night parties he holds on the first Friday of each month.”
Even as a reader myself I find that I want the writer to just get to the point, but now I understand that these details help the reader understand the story better. I also appreciated Richtel’s writing style because at the beginning of the book I found myself wondering how I could feel sorry for Reggie when he killed two innocent people while texting and driving. At the end, I found myself feeling sympathy for Reggie and understanding how much regret he feels over what he’s done. The story could have been portrayed on either side and I appreciate Richtel’s objectivity of showing both and letting the reader decide in the end how to feel. Overall, I learned I need to ask the harder questions — not just what’s on the surface. It’s important to take the time to do your research and back up what you’re saying with actual facts and research. These facts need to be broken down into plain English for the reader. I learned that characters are what drives the story. I also learned that specific details are extremely important in creating a compelling story. Sure, the story might be longer than it would be without them, but they’re what kept me reading until the end.