Friday, August 12, 2011

Half a Life, by Darin Strauss

I first heard Darin Strauss on This American Life, telling this story. I found it so intensely moving that I listened to it again in its entirety. In short: at the age of 18 Darin hit and killed a 16 year old girl, she on a bike, he in a car. No one blames him, it wasn't his fault. This, of course, hasn't stopped him from feeling guilty, and feeling guilty about feeling guilty, for half his life.

The accident itself was not so very huge - the car didn't suffer any damage past a cracked windshield, and none of its occupants were hurt. Despite the sad outcome, it's the kind of event that you'd read about and then pretty quickly forget. Unless, of course, you happen to be the one in the driver's seat. In which case it colors everything you do for years, maybe forever.

Strauss says in this book that had this episode never occurred, he may not have become a writer. Which is hard to imagine. I kept thinking that another, less introspective person might not have spent so very much time obsessing over his every reaction to the pivotal event in his life; he's not sad enough, he's selfishly sad, he's not demonstrative enough, he's faking it. This is probably naive of me. Probably the truth is really that not everyone in this situation would do such a good job of describing his feelings.
Somewhere in the midst of the story, I realized that this book is not a memoir of Darin Strauss' whole life, but more a very close look at the lens through which he's lived his life. He doesn't tell us about the many times he didn't think about Celine, because that's not the point of this story.

It's hard to imagine living with the weight of having accidentally taken some one's life. This small book serves as a reminder that life can change on a dime; a moment can stretch into eternity. I really recommend listening to Darin tell the story, here.

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