Just one month before Darin Strauss graduated from college, he was driving his friends to the miniature golf course near his Long Island home. They never made it—the afternoon ended in an accident and the death of a teenage girl who had been riding a bicycle.
From the very first sentence ("Half my life ago, I killed a girl.") Strauss holds his head up and owns his struggle to understand what happened and to find a way to live a life that would forever include the specter of Celine, a young girl he barely even knew.
The power of Half a Life lies in Strauss's unpretentious, straightforward approach. He talks about the second half of his life in relationship to the accident the way he might tell the story to his wife or best friend. He doesn't try to fill in the gaps of his memory; he doesn't embellish to make for a better book. He simply writes about that day and the many days after in which Celine was always there and he was never sure if or when or how to let her go.
My accident was the deepest part of my life, and the second-deepest was hiding it. (103)I know the truth of this story. When I was fifteen, three of my close friends were in a car accident in which one girl died. I remember the looks the driver got when she returned to our small high school and the way that she and her friends (including me) and the other kids were suddenly unsure how to act, even though we had known each other all our lives.
I cannot (thank God) know what it was like for my friend the driver, whom I've lost touch with over the decades, but now I have a hint, a glimpse into what it must have been like. Strauss frankly exposes his inexplicable torment of realizing that he might have gone a whole a day without thinking about Celine: Is that good (am I healing?) or is that bad (am I a cold-hearted bastard?). The guilt whenever he thought about how the accident affected his own life (I'm so selfish, what about her parents?). His need to find fault, forgiveness, closure . . . something, when there may have been no fault, no one to forgive but himself, and no closure but the acceptance that it's okay to be alive.
In the end, Strauss shares some of his life lessons, lessons that likely come easier to those of us who haven't been haunted; nonetheless, they are worth learning. These are the passages you underline, even though you never write in books. Strauss finds the truths, and the beauty of his words embrace you.
Strauss said that going to Celine's funeral "was—and remains—the hardest thing I've ever had to do," but I think it was writing Half a Life.