Tag Archives: memoirs

Other people’s memories: “Half a Life”

A memoir that relies heavily upon the memories of a single life-changing event is “Half a Life” by Darin Strauss. I’m sure you’ve read many stories about a tragic car accident that claims the life of an innocent person. While often alcohol and drugs are involved, sometimes these events are truly accidents, with no direct fault assigned to the person behind the wheel. Have you ever wondered what happens to these people? To know, even if you weren’t directly at fault, that your actions claimed the life of another human being … how would you manage to go on with your life carrying that memory? Well, author Darin Strauss knows, because he was the person behind the wheel of the car that struck and killed a classmate who was riding a bicycle.

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Strauss had just turned 18, and perhaps the inattention and inexperience of a young driver played roles in the accident. Still, no charges were ever filed and his community, even the deceased classmate’s parents seemed to forgive Strauss. But then the grieving parents decided to sue Strauss for millions of dollars, and the case dragged on for several years, thwarting Strauss from moving on with his life. Even though he saw a therapist, he never worked through his guilt and other feelings surrounding the tragedy. He did what many of us try to do during difficult situations: he put a smile on his face and carried on, suppressing his emotions.

The memory of the accident haunts all facets of his life, from work to friendships to the dating scene. Not only do the lingering memories of the accident have a negative impact on his emotional well-being, they physically make him ill and he has to have stomach surgery before turning 30.

Finally, as he marries and becomes a father, he decides to engage in the best therapy of all for a writer: he would write about the experience in a memoir. The result is a powerful work, and a lesson for all of us trying to process difficult memories. I was very moved by this book and highly recommend it.

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Other people’s memories: “The Glass Castle”

“The Glass Castle” is one of those memoirs that really lives up to all of the hype. The writing manages to be both emotionally devastating and darkly humorous, not an easy task to pull off. If you have not read the book yet, I highly recommend it. Author Jeannette Walls recounts her most unusual childhood and the impact that those experiences have had on her adult life. There is no doubt that she and her siblings experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents who should never have been parents. But there are moments of genuine love buried in the narrative that have you pulling for a happy ending for this ragtag family.

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There are many memories that Jeannette Walls describes in exquisite detail that have stuck with me even years after reading the book. But as far as memoirs go, I think Jeannette Walls has earned the title for best first line ever:

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

Wow. Just wow. How can you not keep reading with an opening like that?

That single memory really sums up the book quite well. Despite a nomadic, chaotic upbringing, the author has found some measure of success in the big city. Yet her parents, often stubbornly refusing help, continue to pop up in her life at the most inconvenient of times, reminding her of the damaged stock she came from. The author bravely reveals so much of herself through writing about the painful memories of her family’s struggles. It is not a book for the faint-hearted, but still, I think one of the lessons to be learned from the book is that there are rewarding moments to be found even in the direst of memories.

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