Author Strauss discusses his ‘Half A Life’ story with JT West students
By Tony Graf email@example.com September 13, 2012 11:06PM
Darin Strauss, author of "Half a Life," signs copies of his book on Monday for students at Joliet West High School. | submitted photo
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:16AM
JOLIET — When Darin Strauss wrote his memoirs, he forced himself to think critically about his life, and not pull punches.
In “Half a Life,” Strauss looks back at a fatal collision in which he was involved during his senior year in high school. He looks at how the accident has affected him for half of his life now.
This week, the author visited Joliet West High School, where students were assigned to read the book over the summer.
“Why were you so hard on yourself?” one student said to him.
Strauss responded: “Most memoirs are someone going: ‘This is what happened to me, here’s why I’m right. Here’s why everyone else is wrong, here’s why I’m right.’ And I thought: ‘That’s propaganda, that’s a commercial for yourself.’ I wanted to be harder on myself than anyone else could be, because I wanted to be sure I was doing the right thing.”
Insight and comfort
The book’s back cover reads, “In his last month of high school, he was behind the wheel of his dad’s Oldsmobile, driving with friends, heading off to play mini-golf. Then: a classmate swerved in front of his car. The collision resulted in her death. With piercing insight and stark prose, Darin Strauss leads us on a deeply personal, immediate and emotional journey.”
Strauss gave an example of his determination to tell the story honestly.
“There’s a part of the story where I saw these girls at the accident site, and I thought, ‘Those girls are pretty hot, I should go talk to them.’”
“And the publisher said, ‘You’ve got to take that out because you look bad in that scene.’
“I said: ‘I know. That’s the whole point of putting it in the book.’ ”
In difficult moments, people sometimes fail, Strauss said. They act stupidly, they make mistakes.
“That’s a comfort to people, to find out that’s a human response,” he said.
“You take that away, and the book is the opposite of comfort. The book is a lie that will make people feel bad.”
Looking objectively at his experience, Strauss came to some insightful conclusions.
“It’s not that I didn’t feel bad. I felt really bad,” he said. “It’s just that on a moment-to-moment basis, you feel a hundred different things. So you might not be crying 24 hours a day, but you want to look like you’re crying whenever anyone sees you. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel bad.”
Zachary Klima, a Joliet West junior who is writing a book, read “Half a Life” three times.
“I liked the book a lot — I’m going to be honest. I tried to absorb as much as I could from it,” Klima said.
Shenoa Woods, a West senior who read the book twice, was surprised to learn that Strauss was visiting Joliet. Both Woods and Eli Book, a junior at West, liked the way that the author found himself in the book.
“Half a Life” is a provocative book, and some students asked pointed questions of Strauss. At one point, he specifically asked a student if the book angered her. She said yes, and that she did not like the book. It caused a stir in the audience, but Strauss asked the students to let her speak.
Strauss then responded: “I think that the whole point of the book is that I was not able to face it then, and that I was honestly facing it now.”