Saturday, March 26, 2011

Half A Life - Book Review

About a month ago I was driving home from work and had a close call.

We have a very long bike trail in my county. It links all our surrounding cities together and is widely used. Parts of the trail though must end and you’re forced to cross through auto traffic before you can pick it up again. These transitions are set up safely. The section for my encounter has a traffic light; the biker just decided not to obey it. He ran a red light and crossed right in front of my car. I was going the speed limit of 40mp and had to slam on my brakes. I’m not a honker. I really think honking should be used to alert other drivers of danger and nothing more. Honestly though, I laid into that horn! And what did this douchebag, that I could have killed, do? He flipped me off! He ran a red light and if he was going faster, if I was going slower, if things were timed one more second either way, I could’ve killed this guy. Even though he was completely in the wrong, I had this split second flash of my brain not comprehending what was in front of me. I remember thinking, “Why is something right in front of me? That doesn’t make any sense.” BRAKE! A few blocks later I thought about how horrible I would have felt even though it would not have been my fault. If my fate was entwined with the extermination of a life, it would be a large cross to bear. This experience reminded me of a book I recently read, but never got around to writing the review.

I have not read Darin Strauss’ fiction. Actually, I just remembered, I started reading More Than It Hurts You, but it was on loan from the library and I couldn’t finish it in time. I think I picked up a used copy at some point, but obviously, still did not read it.

Anyway, this book is far from fiction. It’s a memoir, but only about one specific time in Mr. Strauss’ life. When he was a teenager, he struck a bicyclist with his car. She was a teenager too and the accident killed her.

What’s different about this book is how he was never blamed for what was deemed as an accident. However, this does not escape him from feelings of guilt and responsibility. It’s an interesting examination and carefully written by Strauss. It’s clear that this is not a pity-party and he’s cautious of the fact that one person is dead and the one that is alive never wants you to feel he was the unfortunate one of the situation.

It’s important for people to know though how this psychologically affects a person. Even though an investigation did not find him at fault, you know some people actually do think you’re to blame and in some ways, you do too. Why weren’t you more aware? Why couldn’t you see it coming or reacted faster? This, of course, would replay in your mind forever.

It doesn’t help that the girl’s parents decided to sue Darin after it was already determined that he was not at fault. This dead-end court case looms over him during his college years and has a hold on him that I could not imagine carrying around at that young age.

I was attracted to this book for somewhat sadistic reasons. Hitting someone with my car is one of my top fears in life. I did not learn to drive until I was 30 years old and I really don’t get behind the wheel more than I have to. I never drive on the freeway and if I’m going into my beloved San Francisco, I’ll take public transportation thank you! So it probably wasn’t the best idea in the world for me to read this. Sometimes I think I’ll be better if I rip off the band-aid and immerse myself in “the worst that can happen.”

Fortunately, this is a small book, so just when you feel that you can bare it no longer, it’s over. For Darin Strauss, I’m sure this was more a therapeutic exercise than a literary work. Writers need to write these things out and I hope by putting this experience on the page it has helped him achieve another level on the road towards peace.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I can't imagine how that would feel. Also, I can't understand how bikers think they're immune to traffic laws.