Thomas's Reviews > Half a Life: A Memoir

Half a Life by Darin Strauss
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's review
Jun 24, 2011

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Read in June, 2011 — I own a copy

In my experience, the memoir is a form that, for whatever reason, feels fruitless and false, no matter the subject and despite the talents of any writer. This is my admission, upfront. Of course, there have been (very few) exceptions to the rule—in particular, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking which felt uncalculated and was absent of sentimentality. Darin Strauss’s memoir Half A Life, about his accidental killing of a teenage bicyclist, tries its best to continue in Didion’s tradition, but ultimately falls short.

Strauss is a capable writer. His prose is straight forward and, occasionally, can cut straight through to your gut. Take for instance his simple and concise description of shock: “That’s the thing about shock. You can have these clear and selfish perceptions, as you circle without looking at the truth lying alone on the street.” Another unique feature of Strauss’s book are the quick, clipped sections, sometimes no longer than notes written to oneself. Back to back, these bits of writing can add up to form layers upon layers of understanding—other times their potential goes unrealized.

The first section of Half A Life is the strongest. Somehow, Strauss is able to take what is, in almost all instances, an unfamiliar experience for readers and render it real and possible. His experience after the accident, his “obliging” nature and concern for his own image, is unflinching and feels true. The rest of the book moves more slowly, descending into contemplation, and this is where it loses its footing. One example would be his questioning of the young girls motives—he returns again and again to the question of whether or not the accident was truly an accident or a suicide. Because he does not explore this idea in greater detail, refusing or unable to go beyond the single line in her journal entry or the final swerve of her bike tire, it feels tacky and out of place whenever it is mentioned.

I understand the praise this book has garnered and the essentiality for Strauss to write it, but for the most part I felt removed, like one of those pedestrians standing behind yellow police tape.

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