book review

Review: Car Crash – Lech Blaine

17 May 2021

Publisher: Black Inc (an imprint of Schwartz Book Pty Ltd)
Year: 2021
Page number: 251
content warning: death, mental illness
“Recovering from depression was like trying to unlearn a second language.” 

I have always been particularly reluctant to read memoirs on trauma, mindful they could blend into each other and run the risk of being full of hackneyed clichés – a ‘live, love, laugh’ vapidity due to an inability to express the depths of emotions in one’s own words, an obliviousness to the banality of overused phrases. Having a good story to tell is one thing; being a good storyteller is a whole other ballpark.

Fortunately, I’m able to write this review with complete honesty. The endorsements by bigwig Australian names (Benjamin Law, Bri Lee, Tim Winton and Trent Dalton) are well deserved. At seventeen, Lech Blaine walked away unscathed from a car crash that killed three of his friends and left two in comas. It’s sobering to search up photos of the main players prior to reading it – too often in literature we build up images of bodies as lithe as the sentences are fluent, the attractiveness of on-screen ‘high-schoolers’ alienating us from their ungainly reality. My adolescence
inundated by teenage fiction more than social interaction, I thought that being a 17-year-old dancing queen, 18-year-old legal drinker, was mature indeed – but at 23, it’s clear how horrifically young they were.

The memoir captures modern Australia with an unusually corporeal quality, balanced out with graceful introspection. Blaine’s memoir comes alive through a powerful deluge of tender, miniscule details – the whiff of menthol cigarettes from his mother’s kisses, bouncing a football around plastic-wrapped pallets of XXXX Gold and Victoria Bitter, listening to Sufjan Stevens while watching TV – that paint a colourful landscape of life in suburban southern Queensland. I was pulled right out of my life; a docile and girly Vietnamese-Australian goody-two-shoes from Footscray became a macho yet sensitive larrikin from Toowomba named after a Polish politician.

The reader is readily submerged into Blaine’s journey from childhood to present as he narrates with stalwart openness and humility. He vividly recalls his youthful bravado and despair with insightful self-awareness and vulnerability. Blaine explores his survivor’s guilt without being indulgent, confessing to his dark and gutting self-pity, acknowledging his privilege as a white private schoolboy while reflecting on his victimhood of toxic masculinity with candidness. How can you heal without accepting you’ve been hurt? How can you grieve when you’ve been taught that being a man means being impenetrable?

The book goes beyond the tragedy and the aftermath that haunted – and continues to haunt – Blaine. Life was more before it, and life moves on after it. Entangled with the defining event is a powerful coming-of-age story, a reflection of identity and shedding bravado to find a sense of self; an examination of manhood and bravado; a portrait of family – particularly a revered father and overlooked mother. Also, sex. I guess it may be a part of the whole coming-of-age experience, but the intimate topic coupled with the book’s unflinching detail was uncomfortable to me. However, I guess it highlights the insidious culture of masculinity and ultimately enhances the book’s
examination of it.

Blaine is a talented writer who waxes poignant lyricism throughout the book, but to me, the most profound lines were in a casual conversation with a friend, culminating at the book’s conclusion:

“I’ll be psyched to finish the book.”
“Why? So you can wake people up?”
“No. So I can go back to sleep.”
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere, bro.”

The book refuses to fall into a tidy arc of harrowing trauma fading into feel-good redemption. There are no epic catharses or dramatic resolutions. It is not a glorification of inner strength and hope, but a discerning, gritty meditation on survival – which is much needed.

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