Publisher: Random House, 2010
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Where I Got It: Amazon Vine
My Rating: 4 stars
Here is the first line of this memoir:
Half my life ago, I killed a girl.
The girl who died is Celine Zilke—a 16-year-old girl who was attending the same Long Island high school as Strauss (who was 18 at the time of the accident). He takes us through what he can remember of the accident, in which Strauss’s car hit Zilke as she was riding her bike and swerved into his lane. He memory of the accident is in bits and pieces—almost as freeze frame images.
This moment has been, for all my life, a kind of shadowy giant. I’m able, tick by tick, to remember each second before it. Radio; friends; thoughts of mini-golf; another thought of maybe just going to the beach; the distance between car and bicycle closing; anything could still happen. But I am powerless to see what comes next; the moment raises a shoulder, lowers its head, and slumps away.
Although the police clear him of wrongdoing, Strauss’s life is forever changed. From his struggles to live up to the promise he made to Celine’s mother (“Whatever you do in your life, you have to do it twice as well now because you are living for two people”) to his need to face judgment in a public forum, Strauss is influenced in a thousand different ways by the accident and his inability to know how to feel about it and cope with its aftermath.
But something in me—the same tiny something that had longed for Melanie Urquhart’s anger—craved, finally, a decision from twelve people. They’d hear witnesses, cops, statistics, the journal entry. It would no longer be just my daily fluctuating opinion. The official world would have to listen, nod, and answer the question of that highway and that day. A government-sanctioned conclusion: you are culpable; you are blameless. This could bring ruin as easily as release. but the one sure thing it would bring was an end.
Written in spare and elegant prose, the book is never exploitative or self-pitying. Instead, Strauss strips things down to the bone and offers brutally honest assessments of what he was thinking, feeling and experiencing as he struggles to come to terms with the accident. As you might imagine, it is a process that never truly comes to an end and offers no clear-cut answers. Like a ghost, Celine accompanies Darin through his twenties and thirties—present at every first, at every important moment in life. She is the conversation he tries to avoid but eventually must always have. Only when he has moved further in time from the accident (half a life away) is he able to start exploring the full impact and meaning of the accident.
It’s not that I outran Celine, or that half of my life. It’s the reverse. The accident taught me this.
Things don’t go away. They become you. There is no end, as T.S. Eliot somewhere says, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours. No freedom from the past, or from the future.
But we keep making our way, as we have to. We’re all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult. I think that’s the whole of the answer. We make our way, and effort and time give us cushion and dignity. As as we age, we’re riding higher in the saddle, seeing more terrain.
So it’s an epiphany after all. You have it in your hand the whole time.
I imagine that is was difficult to write this memoir, and I’m thankful that Strauss was able to look deep within and offer up his experiences in this book. By doing so, he creates a haunting story that resonates long after you turn the last page.
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