Half a Life: A Memoir

Half a Life: A Memoir

by Darin Strauss
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Overview

Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss

In this powerful, unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Darin Strauss examines the far-reaching consequences of the tragic moment that has shadowed his whole life. In his last month of high school, he was behind the wheel of his dad's Oldsmobile, driving with friends, heading off to play mini-golf. Then: a classmate swerved in front of his car. The collision resulted in her death. With piercing insight and stark prose, Darin Strauss leads us on a deeply personal, immediate, and emotional journey—graduating high school, going away to college, starting his writing career, falling in love with his future wife, becoming a father. Along the way, he takes a hard look at loss and guilt, maturity and accountability, hope and, at last, acceptance. The result is a staggering, uplifting tour de force.

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From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679643821
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 413,684
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Darin Strauss is the bestselling author of three previous books. The recipient of a Guggenheim in fiction writing and numerous other awards, Strauss has seen his work translated into fourteen languages and published in more than twenty countries. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Writing at New York University, and he lives with his wife and children in Brooklyn.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Half a Life 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
yeldabmoers More than 1 year ago
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.
ElaineLittauauthor More than 1 year ago
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.
kimba88 More than 1 year ago
Strauss takes you through tragedy and shows how that one event can alter one's life.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some paraphrased quotes that stood out to me: The strangest things about coming to Manhattan after a life in the suburbs: it's never really dark outside. Not ever. At any hour, there are lights in the street, cars on the road, a window bright with a person moving sleepily inside -- changing a TV station, sitting down to a computer with a coffee. No matter what you're doing in New York you're not the only one, and the absurdity is that the movement and buzz makes feel especially anonymous. People living too close to and too far from one another at the same time. and: Tears came quickly and readily at movies-- even the dumbest movies--and at commercials. (Even the most obvious: family gatherings, a new mayonnaise sampled at an outdoor table, or an affordable phone service--and I found myself reaching for the Kleenex. A man and a woman taking each other's arms after leaving an especially understanding slow-motion bank, walking down a moody, populated street with smiles on their faces, and I was a puddle.)
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Wheres ally ? Cairo
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very tough subject. very interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Given the subject matter -- a teenager accidentally killing another teenager -- it is fair to expect more insight, more personal revelation, more "meaning" from this book. Unfortunately, it feels just like what it is -- an essay that was expanded to (barely) fill 160 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't read this at all. The writer spends more time talking to the audience about what he wishes he could say then just telling his story. What should've been a fascinating memoir is really just self important drivel.
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
An interesting look into how the driver of a car which killed a cyclist felt and feels about that event which took place years ago. The author definitely hooks you in right from the first sentence: "Half my life ago, I killed a girl." The story flows well using short chapters, sometimes only a paragraph long; the story is believable which is not always the case with memoirs. As a reader I emphathized with both the author and with the family of the girl who was killed. This is an interesting look at how the one left behind deals with life after being involved with such a tragedy but I just didn't like the story as much as I'd expected to.
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rhonda1111RL More than 1 year ago
wow! It shows you in a blink your life can change and everyone around you too. I felt that he was trying to be as honest and true account what happened because of the accident to him and those around him. I think that would be hard to know you caused a death and be opened about your faults and self centered thoughts He opens with the statement that he killed a girl. tells what he remembers and whats he learned about our minds copeing means. It was simple and plain and did not excuse himself. told how he hid the facts too new friends so they would not know what happened his senior year. How long the court case was and how they settled it. Its a tough situation to be in. I was given book in exchange of honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago