Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Half A Life

I was the fortunate recipient of one of Kristan's book giveaways and received Darin Strauss' memoir Half a Life in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I love memoirs and quickly sat down to delve into the aftermath of a car accident Strauss had as a teenager. He was on his way to play miniature golf with his friends when a high school classmate riding a bike suddenly swerved into his path. He begins his book with this cold, hard fact: Half my life ago, I killed a girl.

Sounds gripping, no? It seemed like it would be, but it wasn't. If anything, Strauss spent 190+ pages telling us that he didn't know how the accident had really affected his life. At times, it seemed that he was pretending the accident had a more profound effect than it actually had. He often said he felt he was just playing the part that he thought he should be playing, and acting the way he thought people expected him to act. Interesting, and honest, but not that compelling. But it could be that as with all readings, I brought my own life perspective to the book and just didn't find the answers I was hoping to find through Strauss' introspection.

You see, my ex-brother-in-law, Steve, once killed a girl on a bicycle, too. I believe he was a teenager when he was driving his car -- drunk. And I believe that the girl he hit was younger; an adolescent girl, not a teenager who swerved into a car, like in Strauss' case.

Steve went to jail. That's all I know. He had already been released when I met him, and was a recovering alcoholic when I met him. But we didn't talk about that. We didn't talk about his drinking, or the accident, or his jail time. We didn't talk about anything with Steve. He was a very troubled, damaged soul with demons that I could not begin to imagine.

Steve was in and out of the picture during my marriage to his brother. He went from a zealous Bible-thumper with teetotalling views on sobriety to raging benders of alcoholism that lead to more bouts of crimes and jail time. Steve was an enigma to me. I was frightened of him, yet so curious about him. I knew so little and was afraid to ask.

And so I turned to Darin Strauss' book to shed some light on what might have gone through Steve's mind in the years after he killed a girl on a bicycle, too. But I think the similarities between Strauss and Steve ended there. Maybe Steve shared some of Strauss' anguish and 'what-if's.' He must have, mustn't he? But I'll never really know how that day, that moment of recklessness and tragedy, affected Steve. I don't even know where he is anymore. I never did.


  1. This is going to sound weird, given the content of this post, but I loved it. Very well written reflections on a book, tied into your own personal experience. The last two lines are particularly profound.

  2. Thanks, Kristan!

  3. Wow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm going to be thinking about this all day. Also, glad that I've got your account of the book...I find non-fiction so difficult to read.