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Half a Life: A Memoir Paperback – May 31, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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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.Read more ›
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.
Strauss describes the surreal task of incorporating the effects of profound trauma into a life full of mundane experience. Due to his abiding concern for how he is perceived by others, most of his interactions with people are the result of a negotiation between feeling and presentation. He depicts the unavoidable gaps between public and private experience with a level of self-awareness that is extraordinarily candid.
While his story is very small and very personal, it touches upon many larger themes. As he describes his psychological struggle to incorporate the accident into his self-image and find a socially and personally acceptable way to justify his own survival, I am reminded of the enormous power of chance in life and the challenge of dealing with the inevitable uncertainty we all encounter.
Near the end of the book, Strauss uses a metaphor to describe a minimalist but healing conversation with his wife: "It was a larger and more complete moment than simply the words that were like whitecaps on the surface of it. All moments are like that. But the rare thing is to have a clear sense of this depth, and to know another person is sensing it, too."
There is so much going on beneath the surface of this memoir. I can see from the other reviews that not everyone found it as rich and moving as I did, but I am grateful to the reviewers who led me to this book, and I highly recommend "Half a Life" to those who are interested in what's going on beneath the surface.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First and foremost: This book and this story will stay with you for a very long time. It has been over five years since I read this book and I am now in the process of reading it... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Stacey H.
When a careless carefree moment results in the death of a child or young adult the emphasis is usually placed upon the grieving parents, relatives, and friends. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Garth R. Mailman
Amazing, heartfelt writing that is poignant yet concise. This is an exceptional example of what a memoire should read and feel like.Published 6 months ago by Richard Raubolt
needed this for a class. its kinda boring and honestly the dude needs to stop feeling bad for himselfPublished 9 months ago by Nicole
I was so engrossed in this story, how the author was going to forgive himself. A good read for survivors.Published 10 months ago by flo nightinggale
Some reads are far beyond what one expects. This was one for me. I found it eye-opening and wrenching. Read morePublished 11 months ago by RE Krause
I can't remember reading a book that moved me so profoundly. I've so often feared runing into the bike riders as I'm driving my car, especially as around D.C. Read more
I wasn't thrilled with Half A Life but I don't regret reading it though. It just wasn't a good read.Published 12 months ago by Ms. Ayesha Karim