Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Half a Life

In May 1988, a bit more than half his life ago, Darin Strauss “killed a girl.”

Eighteen-year-old Darin was in his last month of high school on the day that his life changed forever. Headed toward a game of miniature golf with some friends, he did not see the bicycle that swerved into his lane of traffic until he was right on top of it. The next thing he remembers is a girl slamming into his windshield. That girl, as he would soon find out, was Celine Zilke, a sixteen-year-old classmate he barely knew.

Half a Life is Strauss’s effort to understand what he felt immediately following the accident – and has continued to feel for the next twenty-three years. It is his way of finally dealing with the stress and guilt that he has lived with for more than two decades, years during which Celine Zilke has become almost an alter-ego of his. Perhaps because the girl’s mother suggested that it was Strauss’s responsibility to live life for the two of them, he seldom approached any new experience free of the realization that Celine would never experience what he was then enjoying for the first time. She has been a larger part of his life in death than she ever was in life.

Although authorities almost immediately exonerated him of any blame in the accident, Strauss was not so easy on himself and was unable to shake the feeling that he could have done something to avoid striking Zilke. But despite his conscious good intention to keep Celine and her parents uppermost in his mind, Strauss would find that his main concern would almost immediately be about how other people perceived him after the accident. Would they blame him, hate him, shun him? Was he portraying the proper image for someone in his position? Was his life ruined? He worried that he did not feel the proper amount of despair because of his egocentric concerns.

That the accident would become the “deepest part” of Darin Strauss’s life is not surprising. What is surprising is that he considers the “second deepest part” of his life to be the efforts he made to hide the accident from anyone he met after it occurred. Strauss divided his life into “before” and “after” phases and he worked hard to make sure the two phases never overlapped.

Strauss now believes that human beings are able to deal with the worst things that life can throw at them, that the accident formed him and, especially because of the key period in his life at which it happened, that it will be with him forever. He also feels that, because he has now grown into adulthood, it is time for him to say “no” to all the guilt and hurt he has carried for the last twenty-three years. He is ready to move on; Half a Life explains how he finally got to that point.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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