I recently went on a trip with a couple of friends, one of whom brought along Half a Life. The book’s slender enough that the three of us devoured it in three days — and beautifully written enough that we spent the rest of the trip discussing it.
The premise lends itself to intense conversation: At 18, in the spring of his senior ?year of high school, Strauss was driving in his suburban Long Island neighborhood when he struck a girl on a bike — a classmate and acquaintance — who had suddenly swerved into his lane. She died that night, setting in motion events that Strauss faced for years after the accident, including a court case.
A critically acclaimed novelist (Chang and Eng), Strauss waited over 20 years to tell this story. And his distance from it is one of the things I liked best. Too many memoirs suffer from lack of perspective. But Strauss explores memory, guilt, and coming-of-age from a mature vantage point that leads to enormous insight. (About his parents and sister, he says, ”Real difficulty, if it holds any benefits, holds this one: Sometimes it lets you find out if your family has a genius for kindness, for devotion under pressure.”) You may have heard Strauss tell this tale on NPR’s This American Life. Here’s the written version, by a terrific storyteller who doesn’t waste a word. A