Half a Life

Half a Life

by Darin Strauss

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Overview

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.

Look for special features inside, including an interview with Colum McCann.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812982534
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2011
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 163,629
Product dimensions: 5.04(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.61(d)
Lexile: HL820L (what's this?)

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.

Read an Excerpt

Half my life ago, I killed a girl.
 
I had just turned eighteen, and when you drive in new post-adolescence, you drive with friends. We were headed to shoot a few rounds of putt-putt. It was May 1988. The breeze did its open-window work on the hair behind my neck and ears. We had a month before high-school graduation. I was at the wheel. Up ahead, on the right shoulder, a pair of tiny bicyclists bent over their handlebars. The horizon was just my town’s modest skyline done in watercolors. We all shared a four-lane road; the bicycles traveled in the same direction as my car. Bare legs pedaling under a long sky. I think I fiddled with the radio. Hey what song is this? So turn it up. Then one of the bike riders did something. I remember only that—a glitch on the right. My Oldsmobile stayed in the far left lane. After a wobble or two, the bicyclist eased a wheel into the road, maybe thirty feet away. My tires lapped up the distance that separated us.
 
Next the bicycle made a crisp turn into the left lane and my sudden car. Dark blond hair appeared very clearly in my windshield. I remember a kind of mechanical curiosity about why this was happening and what it might mean.
 
This moment has been, for all my life, a kind of shadowy giant. I’m able, tick by tick, to remember each second before it. Radio; friends; thoughts of mini-golf, another thought of maybe just going to the beach; the distance between car and bicycle closing: anything could still happen. But I am powerless to see what comes next; the moment raises a shoulder, lowers its head, and slumps away.
 
And then it’s too late. My forearm hooks to protect my eyes. The front-seat passenger shouts. I picture my foot disappearing under the dash, kicking down for the brake, straining farther than any real leg can go. Yet the hood of my Oldsmobile met Celine Zilke at forty miles an hour. Her head cracked the windshield. I remember the yellow reflector from her spokes, a useless spark, kicking up the glass incline and over the roof.
 
My car bumped onto the grassy median. And then I must have done all the normal driver things. Put on the clonking hazards, rolled to a stop, cut the engine; I must have stepped onto the grass in my T-shirt and shorts. I simply have no memory of how I got there.
 
Celine Zilke, the girl I killed, was sixteen and always will be sixteen. And I knew her: Celine went to my school. She was an eleventh-grader. I see her playing field hockey in blue gym shorts—Celine had been that lively, athletic type one always imagines in shorts. Or I see her settled in beside friends on the concrete benches just outside the cafeteria, or dashing off notes in the public-speaking class we took together. Celine sat by the window.
 
When I look back now, she strikes me most of all as young.
 
I walked to where Celine lay on the road. I didn’t know who I’d hit or even that we’d had a serious collision. I thought in terms of broken arms and getting in trouble with my parents. Then I reached her and noticed the peculiar stillness of her face. This stillness transformed her—I didn’t even recognize her. The eyes were open, but her gaze seemed to extend only an inch or so. This openness that does not project out is the image I have of death: everything present, nothing there. She lay on the warm macadam in oblique angles—arm bent up and out, foot settled under a knee. In the skin between her eyebrows there was a small, imprinted purple horseshoe of blood.
 
“I think maybe she’s hurt,” said my friend Dave. We couldn’t tell if there was any life coming from her pale, parted mouth. Maybe she’s hurt might pass for an obvious statement when you read it now, but it didn’t as we stood over Celine on that morning. Her face looked relaxed, as if she were lost in thought. Yet I could feel my own breathing speed up. And that’s all I felt.
 
A tragedy’s first act is crowded with supporting players: witnesses crimping their faces, policemen scribbling in pads and making radio calls, EMS guys unfolding equipment, tubes and wheels.
 
I must have managed to ask how Celine was doing, because at some point a policeman told me that she was unconscious but holding on. I remember talk of cardiac arrest, of a medevac helicopter coming to take her to the hospital. I had a somewhat thickheaded sensation that everyone was responding appropriately to what was clearly a crisis. But I still didn’t think there was any reason to freak out. This was something fixable; it was being fixed. Still, I had been careful not to stand anyplace where I could see Celine again—her face’s semblance of musing calm, her unnatural position.
 
Police had suspended traffic on the highway’s two sides. My friends made cameo appearances as standers, mullers, back rubbers. I thought how strange it was that, in normal life, we all touched so rarely. Traffic, I now understood—I’d started to think abstractly—is a kind of stream crowded with fish, a rush of momentum, and we’d been yanked to the side of the brook and forced to dry in the sun. I’d become one of those sights I’d driven past a hundred times on the expressway, the locus of a thousand strangers’ curiosity.
 
That’s the thing about shock. You can have these clear and selfish perceptions, as you circle without looking at the truth lying alone on the street.
 
The most embarrassing memory of that day came when two teenage girls materialized from one of the stopped cars nearby. I heard the thunk of doors closing. And next the young women came walking over the grass. They were sexy and not from my school. Both wore shorts and white sleeveless undershirts; one smelled, optimistically, of suntan oil.
 
“Hey,” she said. “You in that crash?”—her voice a mix of apprehension and prying.
 
“Yeah,” I said.
 
“Wow—oh, man.”
 
“I know.”
 
“You all right?”
 
“Yeah,” I said, “I am, thanks,” and walked away.
 
Having acknowledged my own centrality and drama, and sensing the girls were still watching, I dropped to my knees and covered my head with my hands—fingers between the ears and temples, like a man who’s just won the US Open. This plagiarized “emotional” reaction, acted out for girls I’d never see again, is one more stomach-turning fact of that afternoon.
 
“Aww,” the girls said, coming over to me. “You know it wasn’t your fault.”
 
I didn’t even nod—I just got up and showboated away from them, shoulders back; I went over to the bustle around Celine, the bustle from which these girls were excluded. I can only explain it like this: there was still a disconnect between me and the realness of what was happening.
 
I’ve come to see our central nervous system as a kind of vintage switchboard, all thick foam wires and old-fashioned plugs. The circuitry isn’t properly equipped; after a surplus of emotional information the system overloads, the circuit breaks, the board runs dark. That’s what shock is.
 
My father arrived. Someone must have called him, though this was before cell phones. It was the sight of my dad that day, the clean sadness on his face, that turned this real, finally. All this had happened to me; I had done this; I was his son. Dad was somehow like a new circuit in the fuse box. He arrived, emotion could flow. In his hug I went out all at once into tears, as I never had before and haven’t since.
 
I don’t remember how long we’d all been there, whether I’d gone to look at Celine’s excessively pale face again. (A psychologist later told me such memory skips have been installed for our own protection. Trauma makes a spark that in a white glow washes out details, guilt, shame—a flare that throws the recent past into shadow and deep obscurity.)
 
A policeman shambled over. His eyes glided across my face; he asked me clipped questions. How fast had I been going? Had I been drinking? (About forty, I guess, and No, no. Jesus, no.) Someone, perhaps a new EMS arrival, finally took charge. All right, folks—step back. He decided on the best way to transport Celine. The how of his plan escaped me, and still does. But an ambulance did wheel in and get Celine, finally and somehow, away from all the stopped cars. They took her to the hospital. And my passengers Mike and Jeff—twin friends who’d been in the backseat—also managed to get out of there. And then, after the traffic was unjammed; after the police told me I was “free to go”; and with a suddenness and ease out of sync with the scale of what was happening—it seemed a form of insanity to touch the car again—my dad just slipped into the driver’s seat. Dave took Dad’s car, I fell into mine beside my father, and we were off. I sat in the front passenger seat. A crack in the car’s windshield measured the length of the glass. Sunlight caught in tendrils that raked out from its sides.
 

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Half a Life 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 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.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a very easy read, at first I thought it was a novel, it's not, it is the story of the author trying to come to terms with a death from an accident he was involved in. surviors guilt. after reading the book I thought how large it is for all the soliders that in war had to kill. what a huge truma to live with
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Darin Strauss was 18 years old, he was in an car accident that resulted in the death of a bicyclist. Darin was the driver, and the victim was one of his high school classmates. This was one month before graduation.This is a book about survivors' guilt that has haunted him for, literally, half of his life. Though he was cleared of wrong doing, he's always felt guilty, always carried the responsibility for someone else's death with him. Her ghost has haunted him in very real ways--everything he has achieved came with the sidecar thought that "and she didn't get to do this, have this, see this, be this."This is a brutally honest and unflinching book that Strauss originally wrote for himself ("because I deal with things by writing about them"), and then a friend talked him into submitting a version to NPR's "This American Life". The response to that piece was overwhelming. McSweeney's Books picked up the book, which will be out Sept 1, 2010. I like a line from Kelly Corrigan's review of the book the best: "This might be the bravest book you will ever read." She's right.
silenceiseverything on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had very conflicting feelings while reading Half a Life. For some reason, when I think about a car accident in which someone died, I automatically assume that one driver was at fault. It¿s much easier for an outsider to think this way. If someone was drinking and driving and it results in someone¿s death, then you know who to blame: the person who got drunk and drove. It¿s very black and white. However, those ¿no fault¿ accidents tend to be myriad shades of gray. That¿s basically where my confusion on the subject set in. On one hand, I felt for the author because the accident wasn¿t his fault yet he was being ostracized for it. But on the other hand, if I were in the same position as the victim¿s family or friends, I don¿t know that I wouldn¿t act the same way. There was no clear person to view as a ¿bad guy¿ and that¿s basically what everyone wants when someone dies from something other than natural causes. While it¿s clear that the author wasn¿t at fault for the accident, I did sort of view him as self-involved. It seemed that every reaction he had to Celine¿s death was only about how it would affect him: his life, his family, his feelings. Celine as a person was put on the backburner through his point of view. I don¿t know whether this was a coping mechanism or not, but it did make it seem like the author was feeling more bad for himself and what he went through as opposed to the fact that someone died. Now on to the more ¿technical¿ stuff: Half a Life was well-written and it was written in a matter of fact way. There was no flowery or lyrical writing. It was what it was and that made it more appealing. Some of the memoirs I¿ve read try to dramatize the events occurred to make it more compelling, but the author seemed to just state the truth. As a result, Half a Life was a little on the short side coming in at less than 200 pages. This is another thing that I found unique about it memoir-wise. I¿ve read other memoirs that seem to add in every detail that may or may not be relevant to the overall story the authors are trying to tell. This book got straight to the point and basically stood there. So, overall, I think I do recommend Half a Life. While I can¿t say that I ¿liked¿ it considering how conflicting my feelings were about the book and about the author, I do have to say that it was compelling. I think it would make a great book club book. It seems like the type of book that begs for discussion.
yeldabmoers on LibraryThing 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.¿Half a Life is a memoir of so many things, guilt, grief, trauma, identity and loss of innocence. Ultimately, though, it reveals a remarkable side of all this dark emotion, the lowest common denominator that makes us human: compassion.
libsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting essay. It needn't have been published as a book. For the first half of the book I felt terrible for Darin, but by the end I had not only lost sympathy for him I also found him repetitive and self absorbed. His struggle with finding his way out of self blame didn't have to lead him to the supposition that the girl that died had possibly wanted it to happen. By the time Darin found himself in his twenties finding succor in the arms of women who felt sorry for him I was more than disinterested-I was miffed that he had taken be there. I did finish the book but was left wishing that I hadn't wasted my time.
justmelissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the aftermath of an accident that caused the death of another? Would it matter if you knew the deceased? Or if you weren't even at fault? Darin Strauss knows. When he was 18 he was driving his car when a classmate on a bicycle (Celine) swerved in front of his car. She died. He survived. And now 18 years (or half his life) later, he shares his experience through grief, guilt, therapy, and hopefully eventually peace if not understanding.Although the book was compelling and an interesting look inside Darin Strauss's struggles, it's ultimately only one man's experience. I expect others in similar situations would have different reactions, mechanisms for coping, and journeys. Which makes me wonder why this book was written. It left me feeling a bit like a voyeur.Other recent memoirs about death/loss, e.g., The Year of Magical Thinking or An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, are from the perspective of a person grieving the loss of a loved one, and one can presume that most readers of the book understand the author's perspective. There are unlikely to be potential readers who would resent a wife writing about the loss of her husband or a mother about the loss of a child. Readers understand the book serves is probably both a catharsis for the author as well as a tribute to the deceased loved one. These books have no antagonist. In Half a Life, in many ways, the author is the antagonist - at least from Celine's parents' perspective. I wonder how her parents and loved ones feel about this book. Do they resent the fact that Celine's death is held up to the light, but viewed through Darin's eyes? I think I might.My conclusion: Darin's perspective is unique and his struggles understandable; he's not entirely unsympathetic. However, for the sake of those left behind, I would have preferred he struggled in a less public way.
benbulben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life is special in it¿s own way for each of us. Fate serves our personal history constantly where we move in lines drawn of our inward march to understanding. We are always moving forward and looking back at the same time. Half a Life is a book of making sense of a tragic event that occurred one fateful day. In writing this memoir, Darin Strauss has allowed us to share in his experience of the events that befell him. It is a peek inside the tormented mind of someone who has unwillingly taken the life of someone else and how writing about it signaled a beginning of a future with the past firmly in its place.
tigger1192 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A short but moving recollection of how one automobile mistake can change a life. I think that all new drivers should have to read this, if only to see what can happen in a split second.
framberg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Darin Strauss's memoir Half a Life tells the story of his accident, at age 18, with a girl biking on a road near his home in Long Island. The girl was killed, and Strauss divided his life: before he killed Celine Zilke, and after. Although the accident was just that, an accident, it indelibly marked Strauss' life, and this memoir is his attempt to make sense of both the incident, and its impact.Strauss tells his story in short narrative bursts, which allows the reader to absorb the intensity and then step away. He chronicles emotions which will be familiar to anyone who has survived a great loss with clarity and honesty, unsparingly revealing the petty, mundane and needy even as he muses about the larger issue of whether it is possible to live for two, and what his responsibility is to Celine and her family.I'm not sure that Struass realizes how universal the emotions he describes are to all survivors loss, not just to those in his unique situation, not just to him. Or maybe it doesn't matter. This is his memoir, ultimately it his story alone. The path he takes to healing and hope - through guilt, self-hatred, and ambivalence - recognizes the roles played by family and friends along the way, but embraces that sense of independence, too. Strauss closes the book with a celebration of his own survival, giving himself permission to live a whole life.
SandyMarshall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Half a Life" is a non-fiction memoir of a man who accidentally kills a teenage girl, and how it affects him. Even though he is not at fault for the death, he cannot escape what has happened, and the event changes the path of his relationships and his life.The book is a very quick read, and it does not feel like much of a story. I did not like the page formatting - there were some blank pages and pages with just one paragraph on them, so it seemed to me like they were trying to get a specific number of pages.Overall I felt an enormous sense of pity and sympathy for both the author and the girl, who were both in the wrong place at the wrong moment in time. I imagine that someone in a situation similar to the author's would get a lot more out of the book.
jeanie1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first line of this book "Half my life ago, I killed a girl" slams the reader into the the authors life - just like the accident that is the subject of this wrenching memoir. What is the protocol for being part of the death of a high school acquaintance? Does Emily Post have the answers? Is there a library book you can check out to guide you through the nuances of attending the funeral? No, there is nothing that Strauss can do except live through it, trying to be "normal" and act "appropriately" at school, at home and through the rest of half his life ago. This is the story of one young man who grows into adulthood thinking of the girl who died every day of his life. This writing is the exorcism of an accident that happened a decade ago. Read it and be thankful that you did not have to walk in the authors shoes.
KatyBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Darin Strauss has succeeded admirably in sharing his honest account of a tragic accident that happened to him in his teens. This is a slim, yet very moving memoir; the excellent reviews of this book are well-deserved. It is difficult to imagine how one deals with a life-altering event of this magnitude. Strauss tells his story without self-pity and without sensationalism. This is one memoir that you will be thinking about long after you've read it.
SirRoger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like many others, I heard Darin Strauss tell this story in a shortened form on This American Life. The book, while still fairly short, is a fleshed-out re-telling of the car crash and resulting death that influenced the rest of his life from early adulthood on. It's also, of course, primarily the story of how he has learned to deal with the experience, and find out how to make sense of it in his life. It's one of those stories that immediately sticks with you. And not, presumably, because we've all been in his place. We haven't. But there's something so universal about the human experience, that we can all relate to those familiar moments of emotional growth. Strauss' language is crystal-clear and deadly precise as he recalls the emotional landscape of those moments. The slow-motion of trauma, the disconnect between what you feel and what you think you should feel, the survivor's guilt, and the layers upon layers of self-awareness and self-doubt.Thankfully, it all works out, as it tends to do in life. But not only is the journey of emotional growth excellent fodder for introspection, the suspense of the story is also worthy of any really good novel.Highly recommended for all humans.
berthirsch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Half A Life by Darin SraussDarin Strauss has written a memoir of a tragic event that occurred during his final year in high school.While driving his car a high school schoolmate swerved her bike into his path and she was killed. This event was a life-changing experience, a young man in his last year of high school, though not blamed by anyone, his life felt shattered.The book is well written, the words flowing as if it were a long poem. Written in first person it is extremely descriptive and heartfelt.¿My accident was the deepest part of my life and the second deepest was hiding it. This meant certain extra steps never introducing high school friends to new friends, never taking anyone home to Long Island.¿In writing this book (10 years after the event occurred) it becomes clear that the writer was able to have some sense of closure. For this reader I was reminded of the writings of Hugh Prather, a poet with special insight into the meanings of life. Darin Strauss is in good company in his ability to portray the deeper meanings of life and the emotions we go through to seek resolutions with the travails of life.I highly recommend this book.
ThePaxtonian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've often wondered what it would be like to experience exactly what Darin Strauss describes in Half a Life -- taking another life through no fault of one's own. Strauss' writing is precise and evocative. He writes honestly about how he tried to project the "right" emotions in the early days -- looking sad enough, not appearing to enjoy himself, and so on. I found it this aspect very interesting -- while his peers might have seen through the "sad" facade, the truth was that Darin really was damaged and grieving inside. The relief of the prematurely ended trial that went in his favor brought no closure or happiness, either. Horrific experience bravely described and explored.
dandado86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A short, quick memoir but also a very engaging one in which a man looks back to when, half a life ago, he accidentally killed a girl. I found that the author did an excellent job capturing his feelings and reactions to the accident but I didn't really connect with him and the tragedy as I expected to. This may be because out of shock and regret and a host of other emotions he disconnects himself from the event so we feel that as well. Overall a powerful, well written book.
sallylou61 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a review of the advance reader¿s edition of the 2011 Random House Trade Paperbacks edition of Half a Life. A Reader¿s Guide with discussion questions, original essay by Darin Strauss, and interview with Colum McCann was excluded.This is a memoir by Strauss who, as a high school senior, drove a car which hit and killed a female high school junior bicyclist, Celine. Strauss was found by the police not to be responsible for the accident; later Strauss learned from a friend of Celine¿s that Celine might actually have committed suicide The book deals with the impact of the accident on Strauss; he apparently thought about it daily for approximately 18 years. Finally, at the age of 36, Strauss decided to write about Celine; the accident had occurred exactly half his life ago, and Strauss was about to become a father (p.165). Throughout the book, Strauss keeps wondering about what Celine might have been doing if she had lived, or he thinks about the impact of the accident on Celine¿s parents. Strauss keeps the book focused on the accident and its effect on him, the dead girl, and her parents. Following the accident, Strauss had only one session with a therapist; it was not helpful and he did not get any additional therapy for years. Strauss does not include his activities, professional life, travel, etc. during the years; he only discusses his life as it was impacted by the accident. This explanation is overly long, and the book becomes repetitious and tiresome.
rhonda1111 on LibraryThing 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.
BridgetMary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Darin Strauss's works of fiction, a situation I will definitely rectify after reading this wonderful memoir. I found this whole book to be incredibly absorbing. The conclusions Strauss draws from his teenage accident were incredibly profound and surprisingly applicable to everyone...not just people who have suffered great tragedies. I just want to take a moment to comment on the structure of this piece. In its entirety the book is rather short, numbering less than 200 pages. These pages are further streamlined into short vignettes that fit Strauss's weighty subject matter perfectly. While the structure was unlike anything I have previously encountered, I thought it added gravity to my reading, forcing me to stop and reflect on each of Strauss's carefully chosen observations and memories.