Freedom in the Realms of Eccentricity: Lance Olsen’s Always Crashing in the Same Car

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?” – David Bowie

The last eighteen months of David Bowie’s life were an enigma to his fans, his death and hidden diagnosis coming to us just as shockingly as they did to his closest friends, family, and collaborators. As he was aware of his terminal end, he continued to quietly work on his swan songs, “Blackstar” and “Lazarus”. Lance Olsen’s Always Crashing in the Same Car (FC2, 2023) is a fictional exploration of Bowie’s consciousness and interactions in his final months. It’s a reflecting collage of narrators, including our main narrator Alec Nolans, Bowie’s lovers Angie Barnett and Iman, fans, and others.

There is no denying that Olsen has his finger directly on the pulse of what made Bowie and his persona so insatiably magnetic. Here, he massages and magnifies the undercurrent of the fully-aware mortality Bowie carried throughout his life, embodying the essence of Walter Tevis’ Thomas Newton (or The Thin White Duke), Ziggy Stardust, and Major Tom. These characters are present in the confounding final days. Bowie is the person who is not quite entirely here, or is all things here at once, or has difficulty being anything here at all with the way most of us operate. Did the people around him entirely know him? Who did they know? What resentments and difficulty did they face navigating their relationship with such an internal, private man? Was he of this planet? Born fully compiled? Or did he grow organically from the legendary 400-1,500-volume personal library that never left his side?

There are no new revelations or answers to any of this. In fact, Lance Olsen explores the difficulty of loving a person operating so wildly on the outskirts of Man. It isn’t fiction to imagine that even those who loved him hated him, but loved him even more for not compromising his dedication to living as completely and utterly himself for all his days. Bowie’s final musical “Lazarus” seems to do this quite well, albeit in a strange fever dream through a mirror of yet another Thomas Newton…what awe there is to live in a world that can somehow divergently adore you and also reject what you are. Olsen shows us those around him analyzing, interpreting, remembering, and crying over a man we all loved, giving us the wake before the funeral. The memories, the stories, the forgiveness, the absolute catharsis remain in the words of others, and we even get to swim ever so briefly in his whirlwind chemo dreams.

But there was no funeral. Bowie was directly cremated, without anything even resembling a funeral, just as he wished. In many ways, he blasted off into the stars from whence he came. Olsen’s narrators help to bring us into his inner circle in his novel, albeit an extensively researched novel with an extensive bibliography in the acknowledgments at the end. Olsen’s Bowie is ever-present in these pages, grappling with a past that followed him his entire life like a fog hanging over his body in his final breaths, and what words may have been uttered with them, and who was even there to hear them. It is a novel of delicate, surprising mourning for all of us who loved him. We were lucky enough to be alive in the same universe, on the same planet, in the same years to love him, after all. To experience Always Crashing is to embrace and believe his constant reminders of where he would eventually end up… “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Garrett Zecker is a writer, actor, and teacher of writing, literature, and theatre. He holds an MA in English from Fitchburg State University and an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA. His fiction and nonfiction work has been featured in many publications, most recently Parhelion, Black Dandy, Porridge, and The New Guard. He is the co-founder of Quabbin Quills, a nonprofit foundation focused on literary publications, free writers workshops, and high school scholarships for writers in Central and Western Massachusetts. Learn more about Garrett at and follow him on Twitter at @mrzecker

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