Half a Life

Prepare to be confronted with a soul laid bare.

It is difficult to imagine reading Darin Strauss’ Half a Life and not being simultaneously uncomfortable with, and admirable of, an author’s capacity to capture that which makes him most vulnerable. Blessedly, for the work might veer into cliché otherwise, Strauss illustrates true personal exposure by acknowledging the falsities humans tell each other (and themselves) during tragedies. “It would be nobler and less uncomfortable to write that I tossed sleeplessly. Or that I woke with a scooped-out pain in my gut.” We think not, for such an admission is quite noble.

The spare and direct language the author uses to relay the aftermath of his experience hitting and killing a high school classmate allow the reader to digest the story, not feeling the full impact of one page until a dozen later. In short, Strauss has truly captured grief in a most literary way.

The memoir progresses from the author’s high school years through his early adulthood, when becoming a father to twin boys unexpectedly causes him to confront his past with new eyes. In a stand-alone passage Strauss writes to describe the events immediately following the accident he states in the black-and-white voice (and memory) of adolescence,

“A police officer called the next morning to say that Celine had died in the hospital. It was unclear whether her parents, who had been on vacation, had been able to see her.

My father answered the phone. The officer never asked for me.”

Yet years later, and arguably with more wisdom, “In fiction classes—or in the novelist-as-a-humble-cobbler-image, writing workshops—you find that epiphany has a pretty high rate of occurrence. It’s a story, it’s tidy...

But when you tell your own story honestly, that epiphany thing is rare…”

Strauss’ command of language is beautiful, as his words mirror his growth. This is a difficult story, told honestly.

Published by McSweeney’s, Half a Life is simply and stunningly bound, a complement to its contents.

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