Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” owes a debt to the minimalist style often favored by late twentieth century short-story writers such as Frederick Barthelme and Raymond Carver in that the story’s events are presented sparsely, the narrator concentrating primarily on surface detail and offering very little information about the characters’ lives preceding the dramatic situation. Unlike most minimalist texts, however, Johnson’s story accentuates an idiosyncratic and deeply personalized narratorial voice. The first-person narration in this story is openly discursive. The narrator comments on the potential philosophical significance of events and clearly identifies his subjective response to them, often pointing to metaphysical questions that seem to arise from within a given situation.

In its effort to render both the sensation of intoxication and the absurdity of human life, the story offers strikingly original images derived from ordinary experience and changes them into something unfamiliar. For example, by juxtaposing the familiar action of a baby feeling its cheeks with scenes of terrible violence and the narrator’s hallucinogenic point of view, the story transforms the domestic image from an everyday occurrence into something strange and provocative. Although babies are part of daily reality, Johnson’s decision to show a baby exploring its body subtly demonstrates human isolation: Adults have forgotten what it means to live in the world as...

(The entire section is 432 words.)