Summary and book reviews of Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Half a Life

By Darin Strauss

Half a Life
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2010,
    204 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

"Half my life ago, I killed a girl."

So begins Darin Strauss' Half a Life, the true story of how one outing in his father's Oldsmobile resulted in the death of a classmate and the beginning of a different, darker life for the author. We follow Strauss as he explores his startling past-collision life - the funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court case? and what starts as a personal tale of a tragic event opens into the story of how to live with a very hard fact: we can try our human best in the crucial moment, and it might not be good enough. Half a Life is a nakedly honest, ultimately hopeful examination of guilt, responsibility, and living with the past.



Chapter One

"By the time you've run your mind through it a hundred times, relentlessly worked every tic of your terror, it's lost its power over you ... [Soon it's] a story on a page, or, more precisely, everybody's story on a page." -John Gardner

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Strauss has a number of scenes (him chatting up girls at the accident site; going to the movies later) that paint him in an unfavorable color. Do you think this makes him less likeable, or more so. How effective is he in drawing your sympathy. Do you think he wants to?
  2. It took Strauss half a life to write this book. How do you think it would have differed if he'd tried to write it at the time? How would it be different if he were to have waited another 18 years?
  3. Strauss writes that he thought of college as a "witness protection program" – he went off to school and told basically no one about the accident. Do you think this time was necessary for him to heal, or would he have benefitted from talking about...
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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse

Half a Life has a larger significance than simply rehashing a sad event in the past; in fact, it's one of those rare books that I would recommend to almost any reader. We all have to find ways to cope with loss and much of this adjustment is hidden from our everyday routine and acquaintances. Though Strauss's memoir has a painful premise, I found it a surprising comfort to understand another person's response to tragedy, especially when I noticed that the author's most private thoughts, though they were almost shocking in their honesty, weren't all that different from my own inner dialogue regarding my own losses and difficulties. Readers will see past the painful circumstances to the beauty of a man who has spent half his life making decisions and living his life in light of very difficult truth.   (Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
Half a Life is an unusually honest, thoughtful and unsettling memoir, which readers and critics are destined to call 'brave'—for it is brave. But the book is more than simply brave, it is a searingly self-disciplined work of literature, and of self-examination. Darin Strauss does not permit himself even one sentence, even one moment, of lazy thinking, or mitigating excuses. He examines with rigorous honesty every moment of the most awful and tragic event of his life. After all that admirable work and all that attentive detail, when he does finally reach a place of cautious hope, the impact is staggering and unforgettable.

Author Blurb David Lipsky, author of Absolutely American and Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
Darin Strauss' Half a Life is the best anything I've read—novel, memoir, story—in a very long time. Incredibly, it's also the most moving. (And inspiring, and challenging; it's a book that asks you to live up to it.) This book has the greatest weight-to-power ratio I've ever seen. Read it, be swallowed, come out changed. If you've faced a death, of course you should read it. But everyone faces a life, and so the rest of us should read it too.

Author Blurb Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place and Lift
I've read so many memoirs. Darin Strauss' is more honest and useful than all of them rolled together, including my own. This might be the bravest book you will ever read.

Shelf Awareness

So few of our days contain actions that are irrevocable,' Strauss notes. 'Our lives are designed not to allow for anything irrevocable.' His story is a stark reminder of what happens at those blessedly rare moments. Its unbridled honesty in confronting tragedy offers both insight and inspiration.

New York Times Book Review - Dani Shapiro

At the center of this elegant, painful, stunningly honest memoir thrums a question fundamental to what it means to be human: What do we do with what we’ve been given?… What is truly exceptional here is watching a writer of fine fiction probe, directly, carefully and with great humility, the source from which his fiction springs.

San Francisco Chronicle

With honesty and sensitivity, Strauss looks not only at how that fateful incident decades ago ended Celine's young life, but also at how it greatly affected his. Out of undoubtedly complicated circumstances, he crafts a simple yet remarkable story about pain and guilt, maturity and responsibility, hope and understanding.

O, The Oprah Magazine

A remarkable, beyond-brave memoir that offers an intensely personal look at the most agonizing events in the author's post-accident life… With astounding frequency, Strauss pinpoints truths that most of us would find indescribable.

Entertainment Weekly

I recently went on a trip with a couple of friends, one of whom brought along Half a Life. The book's slender enough that the three of us devoured it in three days—and beautifully written enough that we spent the rest of the trip discussing it.… Grade: A

Reader Reviews
thewanderingjew

Half A Life, Darin Strauss
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 over and are ...   Read More

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Risks on the Road & Survivor's Guilt

Risks on the Road
According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration's (NHSTA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, of the 34,172 fatal automobile crashes in 2008, 718, about 2%, were cyclists like Celine Zilke. A much higher number of fatalities, 4,414, were pedestrians. Trend data between 1994 and 2008 shows a slightly decreasing number of non-motorist fatalities in Celine and Darin's age range, but deaths of older non-motorists, particularly between ages 45 and 54 have significantly increased.

Though automobile accidents  in general are the number one cause of death for Americans between the ages of 3 and 34, the NHSTA 2009 report recorded vehicle-related fatalities at their lowest level since 1950. The ...

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