Last night, in exchange for a modest contribution to a cause I love, I got to stand in author Susan Shreve’s living room and listen to Darin Strauss talk about his memoir, Half a Life.
Strauss’ memoir is about the life-long secret he kept about the girl who darted in front of his car on her bicycle when she was 18, killing herself and leaving Strauss to face a lifetime of grief and second guesses about how he might have saved her.
“I even did physics calculations,” Strauss said. “I drew diagrams on paper. But, you know, if someone swerves 20 feet in front of a car going 40 miles an hour, it’s impossible to avoid hitting her.” Ron Charles, the fiction critic for the Washington Post, put into words how all of us felt about Darin’s impromptu talk. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” he said to Shreve, “but that was so deep, and moving.”
The most surprising thing about his memoir, Strauss said, was the confessional e-mails he receives from readers, who have shared stories with him that they haven’t even told their spouses or their families. He’s thinking of compiling them into a book. When I asked him to sign my copy, he wrote “Let me know what you think of the book!” next to his e-mail address.
Strauss also had a brilliant tip for memoir writing.
“Be really hard on yourself,” he said. “The problem with almost every memoir is that the writer wants to forgive herself. You can see them doing it, in almost every paragraph, seeking to forgive themselves. But I think you should do the opposite. Be almost ruthless with yourself as a character. That’s what the reader wants.”