Friday, October 8, 2010

Darin Strauss' "Half a Life"

Darin Strauss is the international bestselling author of the New York Times Notable books Chang and Eng and The Real McCoy, and the national bestseller More Than It Hurts You. Also a screenwriter, he is adapting Chang and Eng with Gary Oldman, for Disney. The recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing, he is a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU's creative writing program.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Half a Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book concerns the court case that followed the accident that makes up the heart of my book, Half a Life. It's the first of my four books that is -- unfortunately, when you learn what it's about -- a true story. A girl turned her bicycle into my car and died. The police and five cars of eyewitnesses declared me innocent. The girls' parents said, We'll never blame you Darin, but you have to live your life for two people now. I said okay. They turned around and sued me for millions of dollars.

Here's how page 99 starts (I'm being grilled by their attorney):
I was lucky I didn't fall thwap on the floor.
I think that line gets at what I was trying stylistically to do: be conversational and yet not careless. I hope it works here.
"So which [is it] then," the lawyer said. "One second or half? We're all here to listen to what you have to say." [He's asking me the time between her cutting in front of my car, and impact.]

[The girl's father], meanwhile, was bashful with his gaze until it failed him; he turned from the questioning and kept his eyes on his watch, on his cuffs. (Mrs Zilke, like my own mother, wasn't there.)
I wanted here and everywhere to be honest -- respectful to the Dad, who must have been going through more than I'd have been able to -- and yet truthful about the thorns and difficulties, too.
....More questions for me: Were you drunk? The Zilkes' lawyer had the structural design of a Saint Bernard, sags and weight and flaccidity. Can you prove you weren't drunk?
I guess I didn't like the lawyer.

I go on, at the bottom of the page, to talk about culture a little. I wanted the book to be a lot of things -- not a self-help book, but self-helpful. A book for people who're dealing with guilt they can't to express or handle, even if they weren't at culpable -- and, of course, for people who feel grief over something. But I also wanted it to snapshot the milieu in which I grew up: the American suburbs at the end of last century.
Robed in the prestige of the state, [the judge] was the one relaxed figure in the room. He leaned forward to whisper something. Without ever having been in a court, I realized I knew the ins and outs of this place—attorneys approaching the bench; my having made the official promise to tell the truth; and direct- and cross- and redirect examinations — just as everyone in the country did: from TV. Which is to say in my bones.
And so that's page 99. Thanks for reading.
Learn more about the book and author at Darin Strauss's website.

--Marshal Zeringue