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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Half a Life by Darin Strauss
Published by Random House ISBN 978-0-8129-8253-4
Trade paperback, $13

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.

rating 4 of 5 stars

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