Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Review of Crash by Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, MD


 (Skirt!, Guilford, CT, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-7627-8045-7)
Crash, subtitled, “A Mother, a Son, and a Journey from Grief to Gratitude,” is many books in one. First and foremost, it tells the story of the author’s son, Neil, being hit by a drunk driver as he was walking his girlfriend home one night, and his ongoing physical and mental recovery over the last 10 years. If that was the beginning and end of it, Crash would still be a book worth reading. But it isn’t. Instead, Crash is also a book about how families come together in times of crisis; it’s an examination of the medical system by an insider turned outsider; it’s an indictment of the justice system when it comes to the sentencing of drunk drivers who injure and kill. And it is also a testament to the true wonder and worth of Words, for it is clear that Roy-Bornstein owes much of her family’s victory over tragedy—of their movement from Grief to Gratitude—to her ability to write things out, whether academically, as a crusader, as loving mother, or gifted storyteller.
Crash is very carefully crafted for maximum effect, taking us on a nonlinear journey where the primary narrative is interdicted with episodes from the past that undergird and inform the family’s experiences from the night of the crash through the following decade. Just as important to the story as Neil’s injuries and ongoing recovery is the author’s journey from small business owner to nurse to pediatrician. Context is crucial… if we are to invest in the ramifications of all Neil and Carolyn have experienced, then we need to know their larger story. Roy-Bornstein is to be credited for rendering the story within a structure that keeps the reader engaged and motivated without resorting to a mere dump of information.
The book begins with a section titled “A Crack in the Glass.” It lasts all of seven sentences, a mere half page. But after I read it, I wrote at the bottom a single word—“Wow.” As a writer, as a parent, as a human being, it hooked me and the 211 pages that followed never let me go.
The story begins on the evening of January 7, 2003. Neil and his girlfriend, Trista, have been studying at his home and it’s time to get Trista back to hers. Neil would like to stay with her and study, but her Mom is very strict. Carolyn suggests that his walking her home might be just the good showing Neil and Trista need to make that happen.
But they never get there. A drunk driver—with 30 empty beer cans in his SUV from a party at a friend’s and a prior for hitting someone else—runs them down on a cold Massachusett’s night. Trista dies at the hospital. Neil is left with a broken leg and injured brain. And the drunk driver just kept on going. Going until he rolled his SUV and was taken into custody.
Complexity is rife throughout Crash, and here it begins. Carolyn suggested that Neil walk Trista home. Can you imagine the guilt that comes with that? We all, as parents, as teachers, as friends, make a dozen little suggestions like this every day of our lives... We never expect the worst, and yet on that unexpected day, it’s the very worst that happens.
Along with complexity is juxtaposition, as Carolyn becomes Mother instead of Doctor in the ER. Always apt to see the family’s side as a practitioner, first as a nurse and then as an MD, she now sees all that she hadn’t seen before. She comes up against rules and environments (waiting rooms, triage, recovery rooms) that she believed in as a medical practitioner—that she enforced and supported. And although she still sees the sense and purpose behind them, she also understands the reasons why they sometimes fail to serve their purpose as well as they could.
There is also juxtaposition in how Trista’s parents react to the tragedy and trial proceedings of the drunk driver, who they wholly (and understandably) wish dead and Carolyn’s more measured response; in how Neil’s friends handle his change in personality after his brain injury; and the role of the media as the story unfolds. Roy-Bornstein presents all sides as she goes, even the ones with which she disagrees and, although there is plenty of emotion in her disagreements, the fact that the other sides are so thoroughly presented gives the reader room to make his or her own judgments about justice, forgiveness, and the movement from grief to gratitude to grace.
I could explore this rich, moving book for several more pages, but suffice it to say that with both drunk driving tragedies and traumatic brain injury (especially with the return of so many injured veterans from the Middle East) constantly in the headlines, Crash is also topical and immediate.
After writing dozens upon dozens of reviews, this one ends with a first for me: I want to end by wishing Neil and Carolyn Roy-Bornstein and their family good wishes and continued strength as their journey continues on.