An elliptical and elusive memoir that skips back and forth across time and circles back on itself as the author comes to terms with events and circumstances in a way that she couldn’t comprehend as a young child.
“I am five,” writes Howard (Literature/Denver Univ.; Foreign Correspondent, 2013, etc.), of a time when her father’s health and her family both seemed to be falling apart. “It’s probably only a few months or slightly more. Any time is a very long time, and all that time is time in the memory of an unformed mind. Be careful, my therapist reminds me, now, in these much later days: those may be screen memories…the memories that we put in place to protect us from worse memories.” This is one of the rare intrusions of the author’s adulthood on her impressions as a child, when coming-of-age in hardscrabble Oklahoma didn’t seem as toxic as she would later realize it was, when her parents’ marriage wasn’t as unstable as it would soon prove to be, and when TV reruns, turning time into something of a jigsaw puzzle, seemed as real as whatever she was experiencing in her so-called real life. Actors on TV (including musician Jerry Reed) become more vivid characters in her memory—and her memoir—than the members of her family. Over the course of this brief memoir, everything changes, primarily because of the stroke suffered by Howard’s father, who had been in the process of leaving her mother and moving in with his girlfriend, starting a new life. That new life proved stillborn, though the tension between mother and girlfriend intensified as the stroke and subsequent surgeries left her father “a patchwork doll.” Instead, the author is the one who found new life. She is the one who got away, the one that those left behind resent because she escaped “this hell hole.”
Deftly written, with a tonal command that complements a child’s observations with an adult’s insights.