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Review of Half a Life by Darin Strauss

March 22, 2011

Half a Life

The first line of Darin Strauss’s award-winning 2010 memoir Half A Life is one of the most stripped down, high octane, attention-grabbing openers I have ever read. “Half my life ago, I killed a girl.” That sparse, almost objective, tone sets the stage for the rest of this brutally honest book where Strauss recounts the journey of his life since that day.
Most of us don’t have the defining moment that Strauss had on that fateful day when he hit a young girl on a bicycle who swerved in front of him while he was driving his father’s Oldsmobile on the way to play miniature golf. We drift along absorbing the highs, lows, the outcomes and repercussions of our actions without much consequence. And I’ve seldom read a memoir that didn’t mash through a troubling childhood toward an equally dark adulthood to get to the crash and burn part, but for Strauss that was not the case. He was an average high school kid, not too outstanding in school, surrounded by family and friends who loved and supported him. After the accident, for which Strauss was found completely faultless, that averageness quickly turned into a dark and tragic drama that would forever change his life.
Darin StraussBut Strauss goes to college which he calls a “witness protection program” where he is able to keep the accident under wraps. He picks and chooses with whom he shares the gritty details and finds that no one’s response is quite right. He graduates, finds work, dates, marries and has children all the while wearing the weighty memory from his adolescence like a hair shirt for penance.
This is not an emotionally-charged melt down of the sort that it would have been had it been written right away. It’s an adult’s story written long after the accident. As it is, Strauss has had years to gain perspective and is able recount the tragedy to his readers without the hand-wringing or self-pity that might have been the case earlier. He could have become a shadow of himself, committed suicide or faded away but instead he picked up the pieces of his life and carried on. This is how I did it, he seems to say. It worked for me.
Hopefully this memoir has been cathartic for Strauss because living with a secret is exhausting. It becomes who you are at your most basic level. Now he can say: this is who I am, this is the pain I inflicted and endured – do you still love me?
Half A Life will make your heart beat fast and, as for me, I barely took a breath and was unable to put it down until I finished it. I hesitate to call it my favorite memoir of 2010 only because it’s like saying something is my favorite natural disaster but it is the most haunting and touching one of the year and it is a must read!

McSweeney’s, 2010

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