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In "Half a Life," writer Darin Strauss recalls the classmate he accidentally killed.

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Friday, October 29, 2010; 1:46 PM

HALF A LIFE

By Darin Strauss

McSweeney's. 205 pp. $22

Darin Strauss has spent a good part of his adult life reliving, regretting and reflecting on a single, split-second incident. Just weeks before his high school graduation, Strauss was driving his family's Oldsmobile when a classmate, Celine Zilke, swerved into the car while riding her bicycle and was killed.

Not surprisingly, the tragedy left a deep imprint on Strauss's psyche. His memoir, "Half a Life," is a starkly honest account of that fateful moment and his life thereafter. Zilke's death became the driving force behind his every move and helped unravel his self-worth and some of his relationships. "I'd later think of Celine at my wedding and when my wife told me that she was pregnant. Name an experience. It's a good bet I've thought of Celine while experiencing it," he writes.

Strauss doesn't just stick to anecdotes that highlight his genuine empathy and deeply held guilt; he is gutsy enough to lay bare his own selfish worries about how people might perceive him. "I must admit that my having showed at Celine's funeral and at her parents' house had been in some measure marketing decisions," he writes. These candid memories make for a portrait of a man who goes through the motions of his life but often can't truly enjoy it because he's preoccupied by a terrible accident. Strauss's story is a penetrating, thought-provoking examination of the human mind and the bleak, meandering path down which catastrophe can send it.

-- Sarah Halzack


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