WHEN HE WAS 18 YEARS OLD, Darin Strauss struck and killed a classmate with his car. She was on a bicycle; she swerved into his lane; the police determined he was not at fault. Half a Life is Strauss' remarkably forthright account of the accident's effect on his life. It is about guilt, and grief, and emotional posturing; it's about wanting life to go on, and feeling guilty when it does.

There's a rare honesty to Strauss' writing, and he is particularly unsparing when he describes his actions in the days and weeks immediately after the accident. The day after the crash, when the girl he hit was still in a coma, Strauss went to the movies. "I didn't want to appear capable of any emotion but remorse," he writes, "so I traveled to a theater in some other town. I must have believed that keeping up a picture of constant remorse was the same, morally, as living in constant remorse." Strauss knows how shitty this is. To his credit, he tells us anyway.

Strauss tempers his clear-eyed emotional reportage with the occasional disarmingly offbeat observation: At a high school reunion, he observes of a former classmate that "the dude's baldness seemed to come from powerful thought: the hair slipping down the sides of the head, the brain pushing up on the skull like a fist stretching a balloon." These moments of oddball humor offset Half a Life's intensity just enough to ensure that Strauss' brilliantly intense, self-critical memoir goes down easy.