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Half a Life: A Memoir Paperback – May 31, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Strauss's spare memoir begins with a confession: "Half my life ago, I killed a girl." Strauss (The Real McCoy) readily acknowledges the problems of writing about this event, the result of a moment's distraction-trying to avoid aestheticizing reality, questioning his own self-involvement, admitting to playing a role of contrition, even remarking that "...tragedy turns a life into an endless publicity tour, a string of appearances where you actually think in words like 'tragedy'"-yet a discomfiting tone pervades, and some of the author's concerns, such as those related to public perception, may alienate readers. As Strauss breezes through key events that span over a decade, he reminds us that life seldom involves the drama of deep atonement, epiphanies, unadulterated grief, or nightmarish flashbacks. A much more complicated mixture of selfish relief, sadness, and survivor's guilt informs the aftermath of unthinkable events, and what proves most frightening is the gradual awareness that one has begun to forget; forgetting contains not just the drive to move ahead, but also the fear of erasure. Strauss delivers an unexpected take on remorse with the maturity that only comes from earnest reflection.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
Although the accident was what insurers call a “no fault fatality,” the moment Strauss’ car struck and killed his classmate Celine, a girl he hardly knew, his life was understandably changed forever. Prompted to tell his story (he first told portions on This American Life) by new fatherhood and the realization that the earth-crumbling event had occurred half his lifetime ago, Strauss takes advantage of the perhaps unfortunate ability the accident gave him to introspect and proceeds to do so for 200 pages of conversational free-form essay. Remaining well on this side of overly sentimental, Strauss deconstructs the past 18 years and views them from every vantage point; he sees his embarrassingly self-centered thoughts immediately afterward and the premature graying of his hair and stress-related stomach problems of his late twenties. “Name an experience. It’s a good bet I’ve thought of Celine while experiencing it.” Strauss already has a few well-received novels under his belt (Chang and Eng, 2000; The Real McCoy, 2002), and his turn to nonfiction of a highly personal nature, a slow-release mediation on grief, is no less symphonic. --Annie Bostrom --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts with the accident: The author, in high school, is driving his father's car when a classmate swerves in front of him on her bike. He knows there is nothing he could have done and the police confirm that. But it is hard for people in his hometown to cope with the idea that this was just a senseless, meaningless accident -- no one likes to think that our lives are out of our control; we are more comfortable with assigning fault or at least ascribing some kind of significance.
So the girl's mother tells Darin that he is living for two now, and that he has to do everything twice as well now. She seems to mean well -- to offer a way for Darin to be able to somehow make up for, or at least respond to, the accident -- but instead she places a heavy burden on him. Maybe she tried to forgive him and couldn't -- for later (no spoiler here, since the book cover discloses it) she and her husband sue Darin. But perhaps the lawsuit doesn't take the heaviest toll on him -- maybe the heaviest toll is taken by Darin's inability to get close to anyone he meets after the accident: "My accident was the deepest part of my life and the second deepest was hiding it.... By now the camouflage had become my skin." Confessing doesn't help either: "Even the truth had a lie's sourness."
The book is beautifully-written, impossible to put down, and significant for all of us hoping to figure out the meaning of our lives and to decide what -- and whom -- we are responsible for.
He starts out the book by saying that he killed someone and takes us through the accident. One of the things I will never forget about this book is how the girl's mother tells him that he is now living life for two. And he sort of did - he carried the memory of her and the accident through his life for many years and found himself thinking of her every day for many years.
This book is a very good, interesting read. It's also a fairly quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it is one that I will keep on my bookshelf for years to come.
When the accident was described in hushed whispers in the funeral home, she was said to have been biking in heavy traffic and there was just nowhere for the car to go but into her. I developed an irrational fear of biking, and of being fully satisfied with life, but I wasn't extremely close with Celine and life moved me forward from that day.
Last week I noticed an article about an author I'd read. He had a new book out, and I quickly clicked on the link, anticipating another historical fiction (a genre I love). As I read his interview I felt a falling sensation, like the world was shifting. Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng, a book I loved, wrote a memoir about killing Celine. Darin Strauss was the driver that day, and while I moved on from my friend's death Darin (and her family I'm sure) was left with the wreckage.
His book "Half a Life" begins with the accident, in which she inexplicably swerves into him and follows him through college and young adulthood where she haunts his conscience on a near daily basis. Learning more of her story (and his story) was a profound experience for me. As I read it I realized Celine did not beckon death to her door, she ran through that door on her own, and maybe bicycling is not as dangerous as I let myself believe.