Half a Life: A Memoir
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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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that, of all the kids in this school, of the five carloads of people who had witnessed the accident—of all the possible others in Long Island—I’d been the one who’d had some girl’s bicycle swerve left into his car. It was the obvious thought, and the first time I’d really felt it. And I thought with uncomplicated gratitude how strange and fortunate it was that I still had a life. I thought what it might mean not to have a life. (I didn’t get very far on that one. What could it mean? It was
sidled one-by-one into this chalky and hideously lit sub-basementy place. A long plastic table commandeered most of the room. “You okay?” my father asked me. “Yeah,” I said. I raised my chin, spoke confidently, and meant it. “Yes.” And as fast as that, under the burnished presence of a judge, the event began. Right away the Zilkes’ lawyer trained his expertise on me. How far did her body fly? Before I opened my mouth, I realized the confidence had been a bluff, a kind of performance for my
mistakenly thinking ill of me impossible to take. (This misunderstanding-phobia went even for your standard sitcom mix-up: if Diane incorrectly thought Sam did something wrong, I couldn’t bear it and often left the room.) The accident had also turned me squishily obliging. I always cozied up to people—so that if they ever learned the story, they’d say: “He seems so decent and kind. How awful that such a thing would happen to him!” I never really got to know my insurance attorney; I watched
also, maybe, a breakthrough: therapists force patients to relive the details of the death, making them repeat the minutiae of their pain into a tape recorder in front of an analyst. The patient then replays this tape—this doting agony chronicle—at home every day. For months or even years. This would seem, at first glance, like a religious observance or a torture. But according to the Times, the therapy is totemic. It’s not about making the tape, or listening to the tape. It’s about possession,
(And with almost every fatal accident, someone walks away suspecting he’s put on the executioner’s hood.) But it was me and it was Celine. She was someone I happened to, someone who happened to me. I learned to see the accident the way a painter sees a picture—up close, dots of circumstance; step away, an image, stuck and clear. When Celine wrote, “Today I realized that I am going to die,” there’s a good chance she meant only that she’d come to understand that she would—in the future, when all