Half A Life by Darin Strauss
Half A Life is not your typical ‘near-death experience’ book or miracle ‘come back’ from major illness story.
It’s a memoir for real people who’ve experienced the unthinkable – a bottomless tragedy, the loss no fault of their own. For those readers, Strauss’s story is an honest, raw-knuckled street fight: before the accident vs. after.
It’s a battle that has no winners, only survivors.
As the author says, “Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”
The book begins with 18-year old Darin Strauss describes driving along a four-lane road with his high school friends on a spring day. The weather is gorgeous and sunny; there are bicyclists ahead on the right shoulder, traveling in the same direction. Strauss, in the far left lane, recalls a bicyclist wobbling from the shoulder onto the highway. Moments later, the same girl swerves into his car’s path.
Emergency vehicles and police officers swarm the scene. Strauss and his friends watch as the badly injured Celine Zilke, a 16-year old classmate, is taken to the hospital. The next morning, the Strauss family is notified that the bicyclist, Celine, is dead.
Shaken and haunted by memories of the accident he can’t erase, the last days of the author’s senior year are filled with crushing guilt and anxiety. Life doesn’t wait for him to bounce back. Strauss is tossed back into the fray, left to survive vicious gossip, a bizarre therapy visit, and a heart-wrenching school memorial for Celine.
Meanwhile, the police and eyewitnesses go on the record for Strauss in a newspaper article, making him “officially” not to blame for his classmate’s death. It’s a comfort to his family, but little relief for Strauss.
At the funeral, Celine’s mother tells Strauss she understands he is not at fault. She asks him live his life “…twice as well” because he has to live for Celine, too – then makes him promise to do so.
Already full of self-loathing, Strauss reels from the request.
He escapes to college, thinking it will serve as a safe, convenient “witness protection program,” but Strauss finds a change in environment does little to change the past. The death of Celine Zilke becomes a vortex, sucking Strauss into deep depression, poor choices, and self-destructive behavior.
He eventually meets and marries his wife, who helps him find the strength to face the tragedy: “It's not that I outran Celine, or that half of my life. It's the reverse. The accident taught me this. Things don't go away. They become you.”
Half A Life is not a memoir about self-pity. Strauss doesn’t glorify his innocence; he suffers, even when Celine’s parents lose a multi-million dollar lawsuit against him. Through everything, he honors Celine’s memory and her parents’ immeasurable grief.
Read more about the author and his works of fiction at www.darinstrauss.com.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 31, 2011)