This month, the TNB Book Club is proud to feature Half a Life, the beautiful, heartrending, and ultimately life-affirming memoir by Darin Strauss, now available from the fine people at McSweeney’s.

A lot to think about with this one, and certainly much to discuss.  The story Strauss tells is of the heartbreaking/harrowing variety.  You’d pretty much have to be a zombie automaton to read this sucker and not experience some pretty powerful emotions.

Members of the TNB Book Club:  Please feel free to use the comment board below to open up discussion about Darin’s book.

Let’s do some sharing.

Where to begin?


For the love of Jesus….

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THE TNB BOOK CLUB is the official book club of The Nervous Breakdown. For only $9.99 per month, members receive a new book in the mail each month, hand-picked by TNB editors. All book club authors will be featured on Other People with Brad Listi, a popular author interview podcast hosted by TNB's founding editor. To sign up for the club, please visit the Book Club page.

18 responses to “Half a Life, by Darin Strauss – Open Discussion Thread”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    I read the thing in two sittings, which is saying something for me.

    It seems the big question with memoir is, when am I distant enough from the material to write about it? I was amazed at Strauss’s ability to write about what is obviously his most traumatizing moment with such perception and honesty. And beauty. This is a book I will go back to when I’m ready to embark on the memoir form.

    Lovely, Darin!

    • Gloria says:

      Art, I agree. I’m almost done; but I’ve only just picked it up. I listened to Darin read a large portion of it on This American Life and was literally blown away. To the point that I had to take a few minutes to just sit in the quiet and reflect. And then when I realized it was our book club book, I was thrilled. Simple language. Easy access to emotions – both current and past. It all seems so effortless. But it’s not. Not in any way.

      I was reading it today and I had to decide if I wanted to dog ear a page and my thought was, “Why not? It’s not like I’m ever giving it away.”

  2. Art Edwards says:

    And can you believe how beautifully the book is made? Jesus, that alone makes me want to send my WIP to McSweeney’s. Will Darin ever not be proud to show off this book? Is any other publisher going to such lengths to create something such a pleasure to hold and read?

    • Gloria says:

      It really is a beautifully designed and printed thing. It’s the absolute perfect size. Each page and section is it’s own treasure.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Dude, you said all the things I was going to say!

      • Art Edwards says:

        You and I, we’re leading parallel reading lives lately, eh?

        Are you also trying to work your way through Infinite Jest?

        • Greg Olear says:

          Yes, although in this case, it was bound to happen.

          I have no interest in an eight million word novel about pot-smoking tennis prodigies. I don’t care if it’s “Joycean.” I did, however, re-read ULYSSES recently, so maybe that counts?

        • Art Edwards says:

          Pot-smoking tennis prodigy novels happen to be my favorite.

          Congrats on Ulysses. I’ve tried three times. I always give up on page 155. I did have the BBC abridged version in my car for ten years, so I can recite much of it.

          “Come up, Kinch. Come up, ya fearful Jesuit!”

          I’ll write a post of IJ when I’m finished with it. So far, it’s not all that, but I hear it really kicks in around page 700.


  3. Gloria says:

    Darin, I just want you to know that your story has profound meaning for me. When I was 17, I was in a multi-fatality car accident. 3 people died. I died on the medevac, but was revived. This past June marked the half life anniversary for me. Because I was head injured, my personality changed. The person I was before never existed again; I’ve grown into the person I am now. Half my life one person, half my life another. Since June, I’ve been working on my memoir in earnest. When I heard you reading from Half a Life on This American Life, I felt connected to your voice and your words in a way I’ve rarely experienced before.

    As Art mentions above, your book and your writing are remarkable and are worth looking at for anyone who wants to write a memoir. I’m blown away by your honesty, integrity, and heart. This story is sad and difficult to tell and you do it with tremendous grace without ever once sounding maudlin or irreverent. I love this book.

    • Darin says:

      hi Gloria (and everyone)
      I’m not even sure I’m supposed to be here. How can peole have a candid discussion about my book if I’m around? But I came across this page accidentally, and read your kind words. I’m really moved. Especially by Gloria. Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve gotten so many emails from people who went through something like this. i had no idea the story was so universal. I’m glad to hear you’re okay now.

      Thanks again, everyone

      • Gloria says:

        None of us are sure we’re supposed to be here, Darin. 😉

        I don’t want to speak for the moderator (the honorable and venerated Leo with a Virgo rising, Brad Listi), but I, personally, am delighted to see you here and really appreciate your reply.

        I, too, have found people throughout these years who can relate to my story. We all have a strong need to connect, I think, and sometimes there are certain life situations that make us wander around like strangers in a strange land. It’s nice to find allies in familiar terrain.


  4. Greg Boose says:

    Loving this book and Darin’s ability to recognize every single emotion and non-emotion of everyone involved. I also heard the piece on This American Life and it had me trembling by the end.

  5. Jim T says:

    I also read this book in two sittings.
    I thought it was amazing. I really usually just read fiction and have read the random memoir here and there.
    If all memoirs can pull me in like this one I’ll find myself picking up A LOT more.

  6. Greg Olear says:

    This is the first of the TNB books I’ve finished. I didn’t know it was next when it arrived, but I’d read about it in Poets & Writers, so I was excited to read it.

    First, it has to be difficult to write about the subject without veering into self-pity, on one hand, and mawkishness, on the other. DS does a masterful job of conveying his emotions, but not letting himself off the proverbial hook (although, from where I sit, he was the victim of bad luck, something beyond his control, something undeserved and just plain awful).

    The scene where he tells his now wife about the accident is my favorite part of the book. That made me tear up. Beautifully written, and tenderly conveyed.

    Starter Porsche, VW parts. Ha!

    It was interesting to delve into the evolution of his emotional state. In that way, the book reminded me a bit of THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, in that it’s a good writer’s take on something awful. I found myself admiring the work and praying that it never relates to my own life.

    Finally, did anyone else find his style similar to Brad’s? (That’s a joint compliment, BTW).

    • Gloria says:

      You know, now that you mention it, Greg, there are some similarities in tone, pacing, sparse language, and preternatural access to and honesty with emotion. But each has its own unique voice, IMHO.


  7. jonathan evison says:

    . . . this book hit really close to home for me, and darin and i have talked a little bit about it . . . my sister was run over on her sixteenth birthday in a freak accident which involved some of her friends . . . i’ve seen firsthand not only what such an accident does to the family of the victim, but also what it does to the lives of the others involved, those who feel in some way responsible . . . this is a brave and badass memoir you’ve wrought, DS . . . and props for popping up in here . . .

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