A review of “The Lost Night” with a personal twist in the Orange County Register yesterday, written by Scott Duncan, my former editor at the paper:

“I met Howard when she was 23, an aspiring arts journalist and a polished young woman. She applied for a job as an arts reporter here at the Register, where I was an editor at the time. Her writing was advanced for someone her age. Her grades were terrible in high school, she said, and writing became something of a salvation; in fact, it was only through a writing scholarship that she was accepted to college.

We took a chance with her, and Howard worked at the Register for about a year covering the arts. She was poised, talented, fast-learning, mature beyond her years. Reading her book a few years later, I would be shocked at what she lived through. She never mentioned the slaying. There was an air of reserve about her, though; her emotions were veiled by something invisible. “You can’t imagine how happy this makes me feel,” she said, when I phoned to offer her the job. It struck me at the time as an odd response to a first big break.

Much of “The Lost Night” is gripping reading, as Howard splendidly re-creates her middle-class childhood world of Modesto, Fresno and California’s central valley in the 1980s. She assembles and weighs her narration carefully, with a journalist’s calibrated sense of veracity. She describes the disjointed memories of the death night – the pools of blood, her father’s death struggle, the paramedics charging through her living room – as Polaroid snapshots, “murky images captured and set aside to develop in slow motion.”

It’s an apt way to describe the entire book, as Howard finally allows these painful memories to develop, then tracks down the principal players in her past to find the truth of what happened.

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.”

The review also ran with an uncanny illustrated likeness of me, which you can see by going to the paper’s website here. “Gosh, my childhood was bad, but it’s not like my stepfather made me go three rounds with Evander Holyfield while wearing a tutu,” I said when I saw it. My husband thinks it would make a good illustration for a New Yorker-style caption contest. If you’ve got ideas, send ’em in. Best one wins a signed copy of the book.

And I’m grateful to Scott Duncan for his thoughts. He was a rare kind of editor, personally tutoring me, printing out my stories and marking them up to teach me structure and strong, declarative writing. I learned more in a year at the Register than I could have learned in five elsewhere.

UPDATE: A helpful reader informs me that the OC Register requires you to create a free account and sign in before you can view the review/illustration–a small wrinkle in our caption contest. Darn.

2 Comments

  • emily Posted August 8, 2005 5:19 pm

    the oc register requires signing in to see the drawing.

  • Rob Posted August 10, 2005 10:58 pm

    Riveting posts, as well as an amazing life experience have brought you up to be who you are, an amazing person. I got to youe site through a posting in Henry’s Babblingsof the Memorial Day stint by Emmet. And though Emmet’s site to yours. May God take care of him and allow him to come back to his loved ones. It’s amazing what this electronic ether of the web has brought about, the meeting of amazing people we would never meet if this medium did not exist. Rachel, Thank you for being. Godspeed, rob

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