four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
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A Daughter’s Search for the Truth of Her Father’s Death

A-LostNightAt age 10, Rachel Howard awoke in the middle of the night to find her father with a knife in his neck. His murder went unsolved, and Howard evaded her grief with an adolescence of ill-advised relationships and—even worse—the dogged pursuit of a writing career. Her aspirations were no match for her memory, though. Sixteen years after her father’s death, Howard plays detective, searching for answers and trying to understand her turbulent, lower-middle-class California childhood. She doesn’t find her father’s killer, but she does discover a man she barely had a chance to know.
Dutton. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0525948627

Wall Street Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a quintessentially American narrative of self-creation and redemption, a postmodern Gatsby with a hard-earned, doubt-tinged happy ending. I don’t know when I’ve read a better first book." Terry Teachout

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As a memoirist, she succeeds brilliantly. . . . Sifting through her past, Ms. Howard . . . opens a window onto the miseries that divorce visits upon children, and the extent to which drugs have woven their way into ordinary working-class lives." William Grimes

Orange Country Register 4 of 5 Stars
"Howard’s lucid storytelling and the simple bravery of the writing make her book absorbing and moving, especially at the time of the killing and the ensuing difficult years. Each word seems honed from half a lifetime of gradual remembering, like water filtered years underground emerging pure and clear from a spring." Scott Duncan

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is far more intense and real than your typical true-crime story, and if you attempt to interpret the word ‘truth’ to mean Rachel Howard’s search for her father’s killer, you’ll be disappointed. . . . In the end, this heartfelt memoir is about one young woman reconciling with the past, and in that process discovering the difference between loving the living and missing the dead." James Brown

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Howard’s recitation of events doesn’t expand beyond the personal in ways that are likely to keep others involved. As a result, The Lost Night often comes off as self-therapy rather than as an engaging narrative from which others can hope to derive some measure of comfort or illumination." Jabari Asim

Critical Summary

Howard, an arts writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, delivers a stunning debut. Forgoing the true-crime treatment, Howard remains restrained, her focus on the broad emotional panorama of the story instead of lurid details and self-pity. In crisp, unadorned prose, she explores broken families, drugs, rural California, and the hard emotional work of remembering. The Washington Post notes a "flavor of journal-writing" to The Lost Night, but it’s a mere quibble overshadowed by the heady chorus of critical praise. "[N]o novel based on Ms. Howard’s life," concludes The Wall Street Journal, "no matter how skillfully crafted, could have been as believable as The Lost Night."