Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

22 of 28
Half a Life
204 pages; McSweeney's
Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir/Autobiography

A month shy of his high school graduation, Darin Strauss was driving his father's Oldsmobile when a girl on a bike—a schoolmate—swerved in front of him. It took seconds to kill the girl but 18 years for Strauss to begin to make sense of the tragedy. The result is Half a Life, a remarkable, beyond-brave memoir that offers an intensely personal look at the most agonizing events in the author's post-accident life, including an ill-conceived visit with the dead girl's parents, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that dragged on for years, and the devastating physical toll of his pent-up guilt (Strauss required stomach surgery at 28—"I was eating myself from the inside"). In their rawest form, Strauss's confessions are messily human: He catches himself grieving as a performance for others, and he clings to a dubious, too-convenient theory that the girl swerved in front of his car as an act of suicide. Still, nothing goes excused or unexamined. With astounding frequency, Strauss pinpoints truths that most of us would find indescribable, and ultimately arrives at an insight as profound as it is impossible to accept: "Regret doesn't budge things...the force of all that human want can't amend a moment, can't even stir a pebble."
— Stephan Lee