In a word, it’s a novel about accidents–an examination of choices the average reader takes for granted.
After this story, a car will never look the same to me. As Boggs teaches the young Ellis Barstow how to reconstruct automobile accidents with an engineer's methodical calculations, the reader learns enough about the physical forces at play on the roadway along with the fragility of the human body, in the face of those forces, to hesitate before turning the ignition.
Boggs also makes it clear that driving is a choice of great philosophical and moral import. A choice most of us take for granted.
I think about this story every time I drive. And not just about the physical danger posed by the nearby semis and texting motorists, but I approach my car now with a curiosity and a wonder I didn't know before. My car has become a manifestation of something as mystical and as concrete as consequence.
The story reminds us that we are not victims. That we are always making choices. Every time we choose to drive we open an algorithm of probabilities. Those probabilities are eventually actualized into the form of consequence, some of which we expect and some of which surprise us.
It has been said by great thinkers that all there is, that all we are, that the only explanation to anything is simply that: consequence. Every action is final and followed by a perpetuity of unforeseen, unintended consequences.
To turn my ignition switch is to remind myself of that. That I am consequence. That after me, consequence will continue on.
The narrative becomes ironic when Ellis is confronted with the accident he creates for his own life. In the end, he loses a good friend, a hard to find treasure in this world, willingly exchanging that rare friendship for a miserable romance. The reader sees it coming, that accident, and is helpless to protect him.
Are our own lives any different? Aren't they usually avoidable, the wrecks we make of ourselves and the ones we love?
In this sense, the story is about responsibility. Although I cannot control the eventualities of all my choices, I can live my life more aware of the choices I am making.