Half a Life: A Memoir
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Half a Life: A Memoir

3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  2,755 ratings  ·  643 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published September 13th 2010)
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Ben Loory
i feel bad for not liking this more than i do; darin strauss seems like a good guy and life definitely dealt him a shitty hand in the accident this memoir is about. but after the first 50 pages or so, it just felt like all the emotion leaked away, and then never really came back. leaving a hundred or so pages of what i would characterize as gentle rumination. which is fine-- it's certainly not a bad book-- but it's not the mind-blowing or heart-wrenching memoir one might expect from such an even...more
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
joey
Stubbornly honest and disarmingly vulnerable, Darin Strauss's concise memoir tells of two lives tragically united by accident, one life that ended and another that continued, transformed. I felt overwhelmed--alternately weighed down and buoyed--by Strauss’s cathartic recounting of an automobile accident, not his fault, decades ago, and the sadness, pain, survivor's guilt, litigation, confusion, learning, growth, and gratitude that followed.

Strauss refuses to offer pithy answers, easy self-help q...more
Melinda
I really didn't like this book. I know, I know. It was supposed to be poignant and emotionally searing and blah blah blah, but the author came across to me as a self indulgent navel gazer. Some of the writing itself was atrocious: "I dropped a clumsy hand to the table and splashed my salad." Had to read that one twice. "My internal climate was a hurricane alley. Emotions blew through, downing power lines, hefting cars onto roofs, destroying the finish. Low trees, dead wood thrown across traffic....more
christa
Anyone with a vivid imagination and a something ton vehicle who has ever cruised alongside a wobbly bicyclist has probably mentally played out this scene: Biker veers left into the path of the car, defies gravity by skirting up the hood, face pressed into the windshield, body tossed like a limp towel to the shoulder of the road, the thump of flesh bags dropped into gravel, the glint of a reflector and the crush of metal.

In the case of Darin Strauss, this is exactly what happened toward the end...more
Riley
The first section (about the accident) is choppy, complex, and full of future-self-looking-back insights that make it hard to connect with what's happening in the story. I wish Strauss had been able to commit to the past, had allowed himself to show us what that time was like WITHOUT all the disclaimers and "please don't think badly of me" remarks. He wrote "My fear now is that all of this sounds over-aestheticized, and vague." Unfortunately that's exactly what happened.

HOWEVER. The following se...more
Esme Pie
I've been waiting for this for months from the library. Based on the reviews, I expected to be blown away, but I wasn't even mildly impressed, much less very interested.

Quickly summarized, this is a memoir written by a now-adult author who accidentally hit a classmate with his car when he was a senior in high school, and this accident resulted in her death. In the end notes the author states he originally thought this would be told in a longer essay--perhaps 40 to 50 pages--but his editors (Dav...more
Peter Derk
I don't really know how to rate this. Not because it's a bad book. It's a really good book. It feels weird to rate it.

It's kind of like this: My brother taught some English classes at some colleges, and he made a rule that in the beginning classes he didn't want anyone to write essays about two things: Marijuana legalization and personal rape stories. The first because he'd just read too many that covered the same ground. The second sounds a little cold-hearted, but I can get behind his reasoni...more
Chad
I finished this book in one sitting, staying up much later than I probably should have, because really, how can you not? I had a lot of love for Strauss as a writer before reading this, based solely on his fiction, and now I have about ten million times as much.

Memoirs can be such a dicey thing: it’s so easy to hit a wrong note, or a right note unearned. But Strauss nails it. He gets at “complicated grief” in a really important way, looks inward and outward at the mess it can make, the shadow i...more
Dierdra Byrd
This is the first book I have read by this author and this is the first non fiction book he wrote. The book is about what happened to his life after at age 18 he hit and killed a girl with his car. She crossed two lanes of traffic on her bike and he hit her.
The book seemed like an interesting topic and I enjoy reading memories but this book was just not all that interesting for me. I can't even start to imagine how hard it had to have been for the author to write this book tho because it is ver...more
Richard Kramer
I’ve just read Half a Life, Darin Strauss’ book about an event in his life when he was still a boy, but driving, that would shape forever the man he would and could become. He begins like this. “Half my life ago,” he writes, “I killed a girl.” I don’t want to say more about the ostensible subject of the book, because you should discover for yourself how Mr Strauss has taken that cold fact and crafted from it both a work of art and a humble, useful object. And also, because for me, the book’s tr...more
Garwen Jackson
A memoir by the author, who had lived most of his life every waking day to recall the day he had hit a young bicyclist with his car and killed her. Absolved of responsibility by the police, he personally was unable to shake the guilt, and it isn't until his late 30's that he begins the memoir and his ability to live with the events in his past.
Julie
I loved Darrin Strauss's novels, and I think he's a top notch writer. This memoir was solid, but left me feeling a little underwhelmed. It's the story of the car wreck that killed a girl in his high school; Strauss drove the car that hit her, and although it was an accident pure and simple, of course he has spent the next 20 years grappling with his guilt.

Technically-speaking, the writing is good, and the unfolding of the main story is well-paced. I also understand why he wanted to write the bo...more
Nicole
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susanna
I'm surprised to see that this book is 204 pages long - it felt shorter, almost like the essay Strauss writes that this book began as, and was a quick read. The narrative is straightforward in language and also goes in a straightforward trajectory through the time between the precipitating accident of the story, and closer to the present day, when the narrator finally finds some kind of resolution. Half a Life is a bit different from some memoirs I've read lately in that Strauss tells the story,...more
Alisha Marie
I had very conflicting feelings while reading Half a Life. For some reason, when I think about a car accident in which someone died, I automatically assume that one driver was at fault. It’s much easier for an outsider to think this way. If someone was drinking and driving and it results in someone’s death, then you know who to blame: the person who got drunk and drove. It’s very black and white. However, those “no fault” accidents tend to be myriad shades of gray.

That’s basically where my conf...more
Eric Klee
The title of Darin Strauss' memoir has two meanings. One: That half his life ago (i.e., meaning that when he was 18, being in his late 30s when he wrote the book), he accidentally killed a girl his age while driving. This is the meaning the author intended. However, there is also my second interpretation of the title: the girl Celine that died only lived "half a life;" she only had a childhood, never an adulthood.

Although Strauss states that he sat down to write this memoir in his late 30s, it...more
Natalia
I subscribe to McSweeney's book subscription club, so their new books turn up on my doorstep every few weeks. When this one arrived, i was initially pulled in by the beautifully designed book. It's typeset beautifully, short chapters a lot of white space, as an object it is lovely. (Though by the time i got to the end, the novelty of the extreme amounts of white space wore off and I started to feel like it was a short book peanutbuttered onto a long book's body.)

The most striking thing about the...more
Julie Hilden
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erica
Apr 12, 2011 Erica added it
It's really strange to read a memoir written by someone you know about something so personal. Darin Strauss was one of my college writing teachers. I took his class more than once and between Darin himself and some of the other people there that class shaped a lot of who I am as a writer. This book is about how he accidentally hit a classmate of his with his car and killed her when he was a teenager, and though he had definitely mentioned that in class once, it was in an offhand remark. But this...more
Kristie
I received this book as a giveaway (thank you!) so was quite anxious to read it. I was not disappointed nor was I blown away. As I was reading it, I felt like I was tucked away in a glass room, looking at the life of this young man who did nothing wrong but was involved in a tragic accident that left a classmate dead. I never did actually feel his confusion, his pain yet I know it had to have been intense. Because (luckily) nothing like this has ever happened to me, I was leaving it up to the wr...more
thewanderingjew
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 completely without blame.
This poignant, honest appraisal of a tragic accident, that took place "half a life" away, grips you in its claws. You are compelled to empathize with the driver of the car and the bicyclist that was killed. The simplicity of...more
Jill
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an old Mariner kills an albatross – a bird that symbolizes the soul – and as a result, is forced to wander the earth and tell his story of torment before he becomes “a sadder and a wiser man.” In ways, this is an apt comparison to Darin Strauss, who, at age 18, inadvertently kills Celine Zilke, whose bicycle swerves into the path of his car.

This is a very personal tale about a tragedy that shaped the author’s entire life, and he tells it unflinchingly and with...more
Stephanie Austin
(note: Some of the formatting is messed up from when I transferred it from Word. I'm not, as Goodreads would suggest, going to use html formatting because that takes too long.)

I’m not giving anything away by telling you what happened up front. When Darin Strauss was eighteen, just about to finish high school, he struck a classmate who had been riding her bike along the road. She died.
I first heard this when Strauss read it as an essay on This American Life. I was riveted. I downloaded the podc...more
Jennifer
Here is the first line of this memoir:

Half my life ago, I killed a girl.

The girl who died is Celine Zilke—a 16-year-old girl who was attending the same Long Island high school as Strauss (who was 18 at the time of the accident). He takes us through what he can remember of the accident, in which Strauss’s car hit Zilke as she was riding her bike and swerved into his lane. He memory of the accident is in bits and pieces—almost as freeze frame images.

EXCERPT: This moment has been, for all my life...more
Laala Alghata
“A tragedy’s first act is crowded with supporting players: witnesses crimping their faces, policemen scribbling in pads and making radio calls, EMS guys unfolding equipment, tubes and wheels.” — Darin Strauss, Half a Life

Darin Strauss’ Half a Life is an incredible book. When he was a teenager, a girl he knew from school swerved into his lane on her bike as he was driving. He hit her, and she died.

“Everything between past and present hadn’t disappeared but grown incredibly slim, a wall between n...more
Leslie
The author was involved in a truly tragic accident as a high school senior, and the impact on his life has been significant. I do not want to diminish any of what he has endured in the intervening years, and I cannot comprehend what it would be like to live with so many unanswered questions and so many "what ifs". I heard the author talk about his experience on NPR more than a year ago, and was enthralled with his story. I expected the book to expand on that.

However, I was disappointed. The memo...more
Vern
"Celine Zilke, the girl on the bike, was sixteen and always will be sixteen."
Darin Strauss killed a girl with his car when he was eighteen years old. It was an accidental death. This tragedy would haunt Strauss for the rest of his life. We trudge through Strauss's life as he wrestles with how to cope with this accident.

When the accident occurred Strauss was a carefree teenager looking forward to graduation and college. Initially, Strauss seems not to be emotionally equipped for such a tragic ev...more
Michelle
4.5 stars. One of the most unique, gripping memoirs I've ever read. At age 18 the author hit and killed and fellow student who accidentally veered into his lane on her bike – a horrific scenario for all parties involved. The author looks at the event and its aftermath with unflinching honesty even if it doesn’t always portray him in a good light. Yet, as a reader you 100% understand every single move he makes. This memoir is definitely about the girl and the crash and not his life overall, which...more
Jessica
This slender book is subtitled "A Memoir," but "A Meditation" might be more appropriate - it's a reflection very specifically on how one tragic incident in a person's life can shape the rest of their days. Half a Life opens with Darin Strauss's tragedy: At age 18, while he was driving some friends to play miniature golf, a girl on a bicycle swerves in front of Darin and is struck before he has time to react. She is taken to the hospital, but dies soon after. At age 36, Darin writes a memoir that...more
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A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and a winner of the American Library Association's Alix Award and The National Book Critics Circle Award, the internationally-bestselling writer Darin Strauss is the author of the novels Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, and More Than It Hurts You, and the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life. These have been New York Times Notable Books, Newsweek, Los Angeles Ti...more
More about Darin Strauss...
Chang and Eng More Than it Hurts You The Real McCoy Long Island Shaolin Chang y Eng

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“Things don't go away. They become you.” 10 likes
“I think each family has a funhouse logic all its own, and in that distortion,in that delusion, all behavior can seem both perfectly normal and crazy.” 10 likes
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