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Book Review – Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Synopsis:  Half my life ago, I killed a girl.

So begins Darin Strauss Half a Life, the true story of how one outing in his fathers 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 pastcollision, funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court caseand 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.

First Line:  “Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”

Random Quote:  “I’d imagined this deposition would take place in a judge’s cozy chambers – polished wooden desk; a sort of brass-boxed, green, LA Law-ish lamp.  Instead we’d all sidled one-by-one into this chalky and hideously lit sub-basement place.  A long plastic table commandeered most of the room.”

Review:  Cars and the things that happen in them tend to play starring roles in adolescence.  Learning to drive (or choosing not to), sex in the back seat, cruising town with a crowd of kids – these are all features of being an American teenager.  Less talked about yet just as prominent are the other things that happen in cars – the accidents – fatal or not – these too are clear in many memories.  Teenaged drivers account for about ten percent of the US population, but for twelve percent of all accidents.  Each year over 5,000 teens will die in fatal car accidents – another 400,000 will be seriously injured.  This is the flip side of the American fascination with the automobile and the “freedom” it represents.

Darin Strauss writes honestly of the car accident that changed his life in Half a Life.  While driving with friends, he hit a classmate on a bicycle and in an instant marked by the sound and sight of her bicycle and head shattering the front of his windshield, everything changed.

Anyone who has a history with the unpleasant side of teenaged driving knows that these are events that change us and our relationship to the world forever.  In Darin’s case it is all about learning to live in the aftermath of something unlooked for and so very permanent.  Strauss is at his best in the early parts of the book as he describes what happened – both in the moment of impact and in the moments after.  He manages to be unflinching and honest in ways that make this an uncomfortable, but illuminating read.  Less successful are the later parts of the book as he describes the effect on his adult life – who to tell, whether to tell.  It is very difficult to describe these feelings without some hint of self-indulgence and Strauss’ unwillingness to spare the reader even this detail is both a strength and a weakness.

I would not have written this book and I’m not sure I enjoyed reading it, but I learned from it and from the careful craft of it and it’s worth a long, hard, uncomfortable look.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers

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