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Free Sample Essay Example - Book review of Rachel Howard's The Lost Night

This sample book review analyzes Rachel Howard's The Lost Night. The memoir focuses on Howard's search for the truth about her father's murder and her emotional struggles. This example literary analysis paper studies how Howard's use of technique, specifically her constant awareness of memory, adds to the realism of the memoir. It would be a good reference for a student who wants to evaluate the quality of a nonfiction work by studying rhetorical strategies.

One murder, two victims: Author investigates father's murder and finds herself

Rachel Howard's The Lost Night is subtitled "A daughter's search for the truth of her father's murder." But Howard's memoir isn't a murder-mystery tale, but a story about finding oneself under the most difficult circumstances: a cruel stepfather, failed relationships, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The reader watches as Rachel endures tragedy and trauma, but rises up to confront her past. Throughout this journey, Howard employs a unique literary device - a constant awareness of memory - that gives her work an additional sense of realism.

While some memoirs do not call attention to their narrator's memory, Howard does so in the first pages of her acknowledgments. "This is a true story, though memories differ," (Howard viii) she writes. She explains that some details of her past "remained in doubt because I'd never worked up the nerve to check them out" while others, "things I'd seen with my own eyes, lay obscured because for sixteen years I'd let them fade like an intense and illogical dream you try to shake upon waking" (1). During a recent reading, Howard said she deliberately points out gaps in her memory because as a journalist, she had been taught to report facts accurately. Thus, Rachel questions herself throughout the memoir, and the reader learns that what she initially accepts as fact might not be the case. "The moment I saw my father clutching his throat was just one among so many details I couldn't verify," (1) she admits, a powerful confession since she opens the memoir with this image. Likewise, Rachel's memories often shape her perception of people or places, forcing her to reevaluate her thoughts when the facts change. When she finds love amongst her grandparents, her hometown "Merced . . . once so threatening with all the memoires it held, suddenly seemed positively welcoming" (199). Finally, Rachel remembers some events differently by choice. She develops her own version of her stepfather Howdy's climactic departure, in which her mother's face "boiled with long-repressed rage, and she screeched at [him] like some scorned woman on a Lifetime movie of the week" (100). In reality, Howdy leaves the house "with little more than a whimper" but Rachel, whose alternate narrative has now "morphed into [her] personal truth" wants to see her mother as a "savior and a hero" (100). While some might argue that this memory-questioning technique undermines the narrator, Rachel becomes more sympathetic because her hazy memories only add to her emotional burden.

The issue of memory becomes especially prominent when Rachel decides to confront Sherrie, her vilified stepmother. For years, Rachel assumed Sherrie had something to do with her father's death, and she recalls a woman who seemed unnaturally calm at the time. Yet when she reads the police report on her father's murder, she discovers "My memory is fallible" (175) and that "the points where the report and my memory differed felt like vast canyons that I might plummet into, that might send me reeling in self-doubt" (176). For one, Sherrie "was in an extremely hysterical condition," (176) which Rachel does not recall. She analyzes this discrepancy with a journalist's touch: "Surely that denial of her hysteria reflected my desire to build her up into the picture of a bizarrely calm, controlling murderess," (176) she says. Also, contrary to her memory, Rachel learns that "Sherrie did cry at the funeral" and "her tears flowed more liberally than [Rachel's] grandparents" (17). "For almost two decades my memory chose not to acknowledge that" (17) Rachel says. These differences in memory serve to heighten the drama when Rachel finally meets Sherrie again. She bombards Rachel with forgotten childhood adventures (236), which call into doubt Rachel's negative remembrances. In fact, the meeting with Sherrie shakes Rachel to the core, as she wonders if Sherrie might have been innocent all along: "What if what I had counted as a lie had always been true?" she asks herself (261). Yet despite this opposing evidence, Rachel can't help but wonder why Sherrie's memory of the incident is crystal clear, and why her story about an outside killer doesn't match up with the evidence (253). "In sharp contrast with my family and Nanette, she'd had every last detail ready to provide, as though she'd been honing her narrative for years" (246) Rachel says.

The issue of memory becomes especially prominent when Rachel decides to confront Sherrie, her vilified stepmother. For years, Rachel assumed Sherrie had something to do with her father's death, and she recalls a woman who seemed unnaturally calm at the time. Yet when she reads the police report on her father's murder, she discovers "My memory is fallible" (175) and that "the points where the report and my memory differed felt like vast canyons that I might plummet into, that might send me reeling in self-doubt" (176). For one, Sherrie "was in an extremely hysterical condition," (176) which Rachel does not recall. She analyzes this discrepancy with a journalist's touch: "Surely that denial of her hysteria reflected my desire to build her up into the picture of a bizarrely calm, controlling murderess," (176) she says. Also, contrary to her memory, Rachel learns that "Sherrie did cry at the funeral" and "her tears flowed more liberally than [Rachel's] grandparents" (17). "For almost two decades my memory chose not to acknowledge that" (17) Rachel says. These differences in memory serve to heighten the drama when Rachel finally meets Sherrie again. She bombards Rachel with forgotten childhood adventures (236), which call into doubt Rachel's negative remembrances. In fact, the meeting with Sherrie shakes Rachel to the core, as she wonders if Sherrie might have been innocent all along: "What if what I had counted as a lie had always been true?" she asks herself (261). Yet despite this opposing evidence, Rachel can't help but wonder why Sherrie's memory of the incident is crystal clear, and why her story about an outside killer doesn't match up with the evidence (253). "In sharp contrast with my family and Nanette, she'd had every last detail ready to provide, as though she'd been honing her narrative for years" (246) Rachel says.
 
802 words, 3 pages
 


 
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