Redress and atonement mar a boy’s adolescence after the accidental death of a classmate.
In 1988, Strauss (Writing/New York Univ.; More Than It Hurts You, 2008, etc.), one month shy of his high-school graduation, struck Celine Zilke while out on a joyride with friends in his hometown of Glen Head, Long Island. Zilke, a popular 16-year-old girl who was the “lively athletic type,” remained unconscious and succumbed to her injuries a day after the accident. “No charges were filed,” and Strauss was deemed innocent by “unprovisional absolution.” The author suffered through Celine’s funeral and endured endless days of painful introspection and the shame of his classmates’ collective shunning. Some of these early events may strike some readers as implausible—his astonishingly indifferent parents’ advice to go to the movies after the accident, or that the author “slept soundly” that same night. The complexity of his burgeoning emotions would be nothing compared to the million-dollar lawsuit Celine’s once-forgiving parents shockingly filed while Strauss was in his first year at Tufts University. Before the trial, the author suspected that Celine had committed suicide since she’d foretold her death, to the exact day, in a journal. The lawsuit proceedings stalled for five years (“like when a dark sky decides not to rain”) and eventually the case dissolved, but the lasting effects of the event haunted an obsessive Strauss for decades, with lasting emotional, sociological and physical implications. At age 30, his new wife Susannah offered the strength and levelheadedness needed for the author to cope with his overwhelming survivor’s guilt. Strauss tells his “accident memoir” in economical, well-honed prose, oscillating between the remorseful and the glib, but benign platitudes about shock (“If everything couldn’t continue as planned, no real plans could be made”), death, Manhattan and relationships often feel like filler.
Genuinely remorseful and heartfelt, yet strangely unremarkable.