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

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  3,901 Ratings  ·  767 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Peter Derk
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: petestop0f2012
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
Melinda
Mar 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir
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
Aug 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
S.
How can I say it but to say this book was dull? "Remarkable, lyrical and brave," as the blurbs say? "Inspiring and painfully raw?" "Haunting?" Uhhh, nope. Rather like a very tame, too-long therapy session about someone you’re sorry for but can’t get terribly whipped up about. Or even feel all that sorry for, because it's sad and shit luck and all that but where's crazed Dostoevsky when you actually need him? It's great to be introspective if you're, say, Fernando Pessoa.

I didn't like the style.
...more
Chad
Jan 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Richard Kramer
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
esmepie
Dec 26, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
joey
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Riley
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Linda
By his own admission, Darin Strauss wrote this book as part of his healing process more than two decades after causing the death of one of his high school classmates in a car vs bicycle accident. Although Darin was cleared of any wrongdoing, it still became the defining moment in his life. Writing it all down for the world to read was his way of exorcizing the tremendous guilt and grief he had been holding inside for so long. His introspection and self-awareness were interesting, and I found mys ...more
Andrea
Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When he was 18 years old and a few weeks away from his high school graduation, Darin Strauss hit a girl with his car who was riding a bicycle and then suddenly swerved into the road. Although five eyewitnesses and the police who investigated the accident said there was nothing he could have done to avoid the collision, Darin is understandably filled with guilt and grief. This memoir is about how this accident has affected Darin's life. As he progresses through life, he feels the ghost of Celine ...more
Jennifer
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who has had to deal with grief (and isn't that really everyone)
Recommended to Jennifer by: Ira Glass
I’ve had this memoir on my to-read shelf for far too long; I think someone gave it to me or I picked it up at a book sale. Still, I remember Darin Strauss telling a version of this story on This American Life a while ago—how one day near the end of his senior year of high school, he was driving some of his friends to play mini-golf and he struck and killed a girl on a bicycle. Darin knew this girl, Celine Zilke, because she was a year behind him in high school, but yet he didn’t really know her ...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
Garwen Jackson
Jan 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Alli
Aug 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

This was a wonderful memoir, but I might have liked it a little more if I did not have to write a full essay on it."

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
David
Not rating this because I know Darin and feel weird rating something so personal
Jennifer
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
Jill
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jessica
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, memoir
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
Laala Alghata
May 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Julie Hilden
Sep 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Larry Bassett
I read a few reviews before I listened to this book. Several reviewers talked about why they had decided to read this book. I will follow that path. I was slightly acquainted with a young woman who was driving a car and had an accident in which the passenger another young woman was killed. I once ran out into a street trying to catch a bus and was hit by a car. I never met the driver of the car but did read his name on the police report and wondered how he felt. I was in a car accident where the ...more
thewanderingjew
Mar 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
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
Karen
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One moment changes the course of the author's life. In the last few months of his senior year in high school, Darin Strauss struck and killed a bicycling classmate. He wasn't drunk, wasn't reckless--in fact, the victim veered in front of his car--but these facts are cold comfort in the face of the grim truth--that he was driving and she died. Shorly after the victim's parents tell the author that they did would never blame him, they sued him for a millions of dollars.

Such a brief memoir but wit
...more
Pamela
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very, very interesting account of one of those events of which you think: "What would it be like if this ever happened to me?" At the age of 18 (he's now 40), while driving to the beach, Darin Straus hit and killed a girl riding on a bicycle; she'd inexplicably turned into his lane. Although he was absolved of any blame, the accident has shadowed his life since (aided by a cruel million-dollar lawsuit brought by the girl's parents). I have never read an account like the one of Straus returning t ...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
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“Things don't go away. They become you.” 17 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.” 15 likes
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