Everybody's Story on a Page: A review of Half A Life by Darin Strauss

Half a Life: A Memoir
Half A Life
by Darin Strauss
Random House
Trade Paperbacks

For 18 years Darin Strauss shared his life with a ghost: the specter of the sixteen year old girl he, while driving his friends to mini-golf, accidentally killed on a four lane road in Long Island. He was eighteen, a senior in North Shore High School, with the rest of his life in front of him, when, on that fateful day, Celine Zilke suddenly steered her bicycle into Strauss's father's Oldsmobile. Life, for Celine, had ceased that afternoon, but for Darin, it was suddenly to become a lot more complicated. What it means to be consumed by a cruel twist of fate is the chief, yet not the lone message of his soul-baring memoir, Half A Life.

Survivor's Guilt

Darin Strauss, the author of three novels, one of which, his critically acclaimed debut Chang and Eng, explores the duality of  psyche merged into one life, steers into dangerously real yet ultimately freeing literary territory with this fourth book. Half A Life details the events of Darin's life post accident with a veracity seldom on display in memoir. He is sincere almost to the point of insincerity; a vigilant serpent circling, nearly devouring its own tail. But even as he doubts his own motives, we believe him. At the accident scene two curious girls approach him wanting to know if he was the unlucky driver. He reels, squeezes his temples in a show of anguish, turns away as if mere words were beyond him now; a perpetrator as victim. For the rest of his life he wrestles with the awful self hatred which thoughts of such absolution evokes: survivor's guilt.

The Ghost Inside

"But," as one of Darin's short-lived girlfriends chides after he escapes with her in tow from a showing of I Know What You Did last Summer, "what about Celine?" "How often do you think of her?" Aha, we arrive at the crux of the psychic enigma. Just what is the right amount of time to devote to, in Darin's case, the memory of the girl you killed? Once a day? Once a week? But more importantly, after you've let in the ghosts, how do you ever heal?

Starting to Heal

The author Darin Strauss
At Celine's wake, young Darin nervously agrees to a pledge her mother invokes: to live enough for the both of them. He carries out this odd promise, striving to attain enough success in life for, not only himself, but for the memory of the "girl he killed". In hindsight he reveals that without this binding credo he wouldn't have become a writer, he would not have met his wife Susannah, and consequently his children would never have been born. And from the perspective of one of his readers, he would never had written such a revelatory and affecting memoir. It's through the process of the writing of this book that Strauss finds peace and is ultimately able to start healing. His choice of epigram for Part One rings especially true, it's a quote from writer/guru John Gardner: "By the time you've run your mind through it a hundred times, relentlessly worked every tic of your terror, it's lost its power over you...soon it's a story on a page, or, more precisely, everybody's story on a page."

4.5 Stars

Other Books by Darin Strauss:
Chang and Eng
More Than It Hurts You: A Novel 
The Real McCoy

This review was made possible by the Amazon Vine™Voice program and Random House Trade Paperbacks


  1. This is a great review that really wants me to read the book. What a thing to have to live with. I want to know more about how this event shaped Darin's adult life and the choices he made.

    Nils Montan
    Book Fanatics


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