Car Crash While Hitchhiking

by Denis Johnson

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In the powerful short story "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" by Denis Johnson, the characters include the unnamed narrator, a family of four from Marshalltown with whom the narrator gets a ride, a few other drivers who pick up the narrator, and a trucker who stops after the crash.

The narrator is obviously an unstable individual. He accepts drugs and liquor from anyone who gives him a ride and makes it clear that he doesn't care whether he lives or dies. He is telling the story from the perspective of years in the future. Even then, in the future, he lies to the doctor at a detox center and attempts to minimize his drug-addled condition.

The father of the family involved in the accident picks up the narrator while he's hitchhiking, even though he is soaking wet from the pouring rain. He says that he's going to drive slowly because he has his wife and babies in the car. At first after the accident the father revives, his face covered with blood, but then the narrator mentions later in the hospital that he is dead.

The mother of the family, whose name is Janice, is knocked out at first by the accident, but soon regains consciousness. Later at the hospital, she's able to walk, and she screams when she hears the bad news about her family.

The little girl of the family is alive after the accident but knocked out. As the narrator observes her, she whimpers in her sleep.

The narrator thinks that the baby of the family is unharmed, and after the accident he takes it out of the car and carries it around with him. He sits for awhile in the cab of a truck holding the baby.

The truck driver pulls up and stops after the accident because he can't turn around or move forward. He switches off his headlights but leaves the parking lights on. The narrator asks him to take the baby, but he refuses.

Before the accident, the narrator had got a ride with a salesman who shared amphetamines and whiskey with him. The salesman stops off to see his girlfriend and leaves the narrator stranded.

The narrator next gets a ride with a college student in a Volkswagen with whom he smokes hashish. After this ride, the narrator passes out in the rain until the family involved in the accident picks him up.

Minor characters at the end include the doctor and a nurse at the detox clinic at Seattle General Hospital.

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