Crash is not a badly written book. The prose is blunt and bare and beautiful. Crash, among the critics, consistently ranks among J.G. Ballard's finest creative achievements, up there with Empire of the Sun. I expected, seeing it ranked so high on so many best ever lists, be they science fiction or postmodern top 100s, to love it. And yet I loathed it. It made me ill, the twisted depravity of its car wrecked, grotesquely acting characters.
Is something wrong with me? I usually like this type of demented shit. And I live for demented shit. I crave demented shit like a zombie craves fresh flesh.
The people in Crash have become so wrecked and warped by technology that they can only relate to one another within the cramped confines of cars, and preferably the very totaled cars in which they crashed in, maybe suffered a partial amputation in, nearly died in. And these people (if they can truly still be called "people") -- car crash victims all of them -- do a lot more than merely relate inside these demolished automobiles. In fact, they can only become aroused inside their crashed cars. Their unhealed wounds from their recent car accidents, be they long gashes or deep punctures not completely healed, serve as erogenous orifices of new found opportunity for previously unimagined decadent sexual pleasure! Oh, do that open oozing wound, Guy, will ya! Go for it! Never mind the stiches or staples. Yes, right there, where it's infected with pus, stick it in, oh yes, yes!
I felt icky reading Crash, and I'm honestly not completely sure why. I'm certainly no prude. I'm not squeamish with blood and guts (though maybe mix some sex in with the blood and guts? and yeah, I'll own it, I'm squeamish!) But still, I absolutely loved William T. Vollmann's Royal Family and it's a hell of a lot more squeamish-inducing than Crash, with its promiscuous array of kinky pimps and prostitutes and johns, so what was it about Crash that so repelled me?
It was disgusting, pure and simple, is all I can come up with. I suppose if Ballard's goal was to repulse me in an unenjoyable way (I enjoy being repulsed in enjoyable ways) then he masterfully succeeded. I simply could not relate to these characters, and I spend two hours every day on the damn freeway where I witness accidents or the aftermaths of accidents daily; and yes, truth be told, I have in fact had sex inside a car (woo hoo!), but not inside the kind of car that M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) used to display on high school campuses to scare teenagers into not drinking and driving; the cars twisted and deformed into metallic monstrosities nearly unrecognizable as cars and probably unfit for even a junkyard ... fuck. I just couldn't relate!
I didn't like these people; they grossed me out with their fetishes for sharp singed metal and shattered windshields; I found them repugnant. And don't call me Mr. Morals (I'm certainly not) but there was nothing redeemable or hopeful about the characters, or the plot, which really wasn't a plot at all but just a series of car crashes imbued with wound-erotica by deranged if not outright demented minds.
Usually, this kind of writing attracts me, as I've said. The more I think about it, I think the non-stop nihilism does the novel in for me as well. I typically like nihilism, a la Bret Easton Ellis or Hemingway or early Joan Didion (Play It As It Lays, in particular); I like the latter and not the former because the latter interweave their nihilism with either black humor or detached moral outrage, but there's neither of those qualities in Crash. It's just mind numbingly nihilistic. Zero to Sixty-Miles-A-Nihilism in two sentences and maintained for two hundred pages.
In sum, yuck!
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