The Lost Night

A powerful document on loss, reconciliation, and the slippery nature of memory

By Rachel Howard

Plume (June), $15

Rachel Howard's memoir opens with a murder — her father's. It's 3:30 in the morning, Rachel is 10 years old, and her dad is in his bedroom, holding his throat, which has been pierced with a knife from their kitchen. It's a gripping opening, proposing a tale in the true-crime vein, in which violence leads to a perpetrator and ultimate courtroom justice. But 20 years later, the murder remains unsolved. The Lost Night is not so much Howard's search for the truth as the exploration of her memories, of growing up in the Central Valley, of her father's loves, and of her extended family. In delicate though somewhat detached prose, Howard dips into her past like a stone skipping across water, uncovering events that seem at times only loosely linked to the murder. Later, the book itself becomes a subject, and her decision to write about her dad prompts her to visit her Merced hometown to confront her family and the detectives who worked on the case. Suspicion falls on Sherri, her dad's ex-wife, but she finds no satisfactory answers. Although Howard, who has worked as a reporter up and down the West Coast (including a stint at this paper), doesn't find the killer, she comes away with a better understanding of her father and her chaotic childhood, giving us a powerful document on loss, reconciliation, and the slippery nature of memory.

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