As a girl, she endured overrefined speech lessons, mucked up her First Holy Communion, and stood sentinel at her mother's nightly capitulations to her father's squalling demands. What sets this apart from other, lesser memory hunts is not the particulars but the singular manner of their disclosure: a successful search for form and a flawless skewering of personality in glistening language. Impatient with chronology, Howard groups vignettes by bold theme--culture, money, sex--and insets appraisals: ""To fear the bourgeois is bourgeois."" There's a savage portrait of her father (""I learned more from his cruelty than from my mother's care""), creamy experiences with a rich magazine-serial writer, the usual adolescent exploratory operations (told with unusual finesse), and a continuing battle with her own manipulations--participating in good-cause protests (e.g., against the Cambodian invasion) as moral statement and ""spiritual self-aggrandizement."" In this skinning of Bridgeport lace curtain rituals, neighborhood grotesques, faculty-wife insufficiencies, and mother/divorcee recognitions, she is fueled by a Willa Cather observation: ""The courage to go on without compromise does not come to a writer all at once--nor, for that matter, does the ability."" Courage and ability are here, and authenticity, spirit, and savvy.