Customer Reviews for

Half a Life

Average Rating 3.5
( 58 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(17)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(4)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 58 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted June 23, 2011

    A heartbreaking memoir of grief, guilt and compassion from a gifted writer

    Darin Strauss broke into adulthood with a horrific accident. While driving, he hit a biker and instantly killed her. She happened to be a high school classmate. It was impossible to avoid the hit (police and eyewitnesses unanimously agreed; he was sober, there was daylight). In the aftermath of the accident, Strauss began to experience the shock, disconnect, and trauma of such an event. "But shock is not a one-time event," he says, ".A lesser shock keeps showing up, to hurl a big muffling blanket over you." What follows is years of self-questioning and guilt. How did she end up in my lane? Could I have avoided the hit? How are her parents handling the pain? Will I ever get over this?

    What makes Strauss's memoir, Half a Life, remarkable is his level of compassion for sixteen-year old Celine Zilke and her family. He keeps this compassion even after her parents sue him for millions. In the wake of the accident, these same parents had explicitly told him that what happened to their daughter was not his fault. Still, Strauss can only remember Celine's father as the man before the lawsuit who handed him an iced tea and a coaster after a visit to their home; he can only think of them as a family grieving. "How could anyone blame these people for anything?" he says. And though the court case dragged for years, the claim threatening his entire future ("they could impoverish me forever"), he harbored no ill will or anger against the parents. Such compassion also veers towards immense guilt, a "whole-soul despair," and Strauss thinks, even if theoretically, the possibility of suicide.

    And we feel for him because he is a mere eighteen-years-old when the story begins. "We'd had the accident at the age when your identity is pretty much up for grabs," he writes. An insensitive shrink doesn't provide any help, neither does a ten-year high school reunion. "I went because I hadn't wanted to go: it was the strongest, best reason to go. And because Celine wouldn't get to attend hers, and we were in this together." As the pages turn, the reader gathers that it is almost impossible for Strauss to put the event behind him. "Things don't go away," he writes at the end of his story, "They become you.No freedom from the past, or from the future." So close is Celine to his identity and conscience, that she is almost his silent twin. "Name an experience," he writes. "It's a good bet I've thought of Celine while experiencing it."

    Strauss's story is humbling and personal. He doesn't fill his pages with quotes or statistics about grief or guilt, nor bombard the reader with research and hand-me down facts. He simply shares his process in simple, stark prose. "We're all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult," he writes. "I think that's the whole of the answer." And though he admits that the accident has formed him, he chooses to move ahead. He tells himself-enough-enough of the grief, and guilt, and questioning. For the first time, he is gentle on himself. I believe this is his epiphany, evident in his final lines. "I can say no to the hectoring, blistery hurt. I can say to myself: It's all right to take in the winter beach and grass smells, and crackle back across the sand of the road, and smile at the faces you love."

    Ultimately, Half a Life is about the lowest common denominator that makes us human: compassion.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Touching

    Strauss takes you through tragedy and shows how that one event can alter one's life.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2011

    This brief memoir explores the ramifications of grief and guilt.

    When I turned to the last page of this profound little book, I simply sat quietly and thought about how awful it must be to carry guilt with you, like a shadow, for most of your life, for something you probably had little or no control of and are completely without blame. This poignant, honest appraisal of a tragic accident, that took place half a life away, grips you in its claws. You are compelled to empathize with the driver of the car and the bicyclist that was killed. The simplicity of the author's prose, coupled with the raw emotion expressed, conspire to make you an unwilling witness to this tragic event. You morph into friend and foe, all wrapped into one, watching the author, whose life changed the night of the terrible accident, as he spends his days unaware sometimes, of how consumed he is with the memory of someone he never really knew. His life changed irrevocably that night, but the cyclist's ended totally. He goes through his life searching for meaning and justice and comprehension for that moment in time that changed his future and hers. He asks himself often, is he feeling the right emotions, will he ever be able to forget that night or will it haunt him forever as it has been doing for so many years. Every waking moment seems to be a judgment about him, based on that fateful night. Although he is not always fully aware of it, his mind has not coped well with the grief he carries from the tragedy. He cannot move on beyond it because the guilt will not release itself. He remembers the words of the victim's parents and tries to satisfy their needs and lessen their horror, by living for her as well. He is consumed with the question, if their horror will never end, why should his? How he copes with this sadness and need to explain the unexplainable, is the crux of this memoir and it is very compelling.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    reminded me of THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

    Darin Strauss was a high school senior just about to graduate when he hit and killed a fellow student with his car. The aftermath of that accident and how he lived with it are recounted in his evocative memoir Half a Life. As the mother of two young men, this book was really a punch to the gut. Strauss was cleared of all legal responsibility for the accident in which a young girl turned her bicycle into the path of his car, but the moral responsibility lingered on for many years to come. One of the hardest chapters to read was the one where Strauss and his father attended the funeral for Celine, the girl who was killed. His mother did not attend, and Strauss was not sure why. It was a brave thing for him to do. He spoke to Celine's parents, and they seemed kind to him. Celine's mother did say something that would linger with him for almost twenty years. She made him promise that "whatever you do in your life, you have to do it twice as well. Because you are living it for two people". The accident changed his life in so many ways. He became "squishily obliging", hoping that by being overtly kind to everyone he met that when they found out what he had done, they would think that he was so "decent and kind", and that it was terrible that something so awful happened to such a nice guy. Celine's parents sued Strauss, an event that dragged on for five long years. Strauss didn't really know Celine very well, so he tried to learn everything he could about her, including why she turned into his car. He took her mother's plea to heart, and tried to live his life for two people. Every experience he had, he thought of Celine while it was happening. It was emotionally draining, and he developed a severe stomach ailment. There are so many moving stories in the book: attending his high school reunion, telling his wife on their fifth date what happened, returning the scene of the accident so many years later. Strauss writes so beautifully and honestly about the pain this incident caused and how it affected every single thing that happened to him afterword, it is impossible not to be moved. This book reminded me of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking; it's about how death so deeply affects the lives of those left behind, whether you loved them or hardly knew them.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Reality Check

    Half a Life by Darin Strauss was a book I was given to review by amazon vine group. It is one of those books that change the way you think about events in life. Something as simple as taking a ride with friends can turn into something that changes you. The spacing of the words on the page is effective in the story telling. I hadn't seen that done before, but it was genious. It causes the reader to pause one more second for the message to come through. I recommend this book and hope that men and women will read it and allow the lessons of life to help them make a change without the pain of living through an accident.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Pierce

    Backs away to resukt 24

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Its not a book i would have chosen myself however i did enjoy the book.

    I found the book very imformitive and it certainly kept my interest. Im 80 years old , however, it didnt teach me anything i already knew . I didnt put the book down untill i finished it, so i believe that says it all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Tsubaki

    Tell everyone to go to the beach plz i will go there in a bit i have to change

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

    Anna

    She nods getting up. "I've got to go." She says then walk out of the cabin.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Kennzie

    A small blond haired quiet girl comes in

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Matt

    Nodds and fallows

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Mike

    Punches a wall

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Stewl

    She watches.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Moonlight

    I'm out. Laters. *shadlw travels out*

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    Abby

    I come in and grab my bag full of secret cool stuff and go to my secret hideout. Just for a min

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Jiselle

    Get the fug out!!!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Tallia

    I have a crusk on sage

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Andrea

    She hops on a lightning cloud " lets do this"

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Emma

    If any problem occurs u know where my cabin is

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    not for everyone

    very tough subject. very interesting

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 58 Customer Reviews
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