Writings and Reviews by Lowen Howard

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Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens

2010. Memoir.  Because of the critical success of Hitchens’ last published book and bestseller “God is not Great” (a cheeky take on the Islamic slogan “Allahu Akbar”) it would be easy in a review of Hitch 22 to brood over Hitchens’ aggressive public atheism, but his latest offering simply can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to that.

Nor should it be summarized as Hitchens’ attempt to sum up the minutia of his personal life in words.  It’s not much of a tell-all bleeding-heart memoir–big-hearted as the man may be (I’ll go to the mat to argue that “big-heartedness” is one of Hitchens’ most distinguishing and appealing characteristics.). He hardly even scratches the surface on subjects such as his two marriages, or his children, or his contentious relationship with his famous evangelical brother Peter Hitchens. You get the feeling that he does this not in order to hide anything of which he is ashamed, but out of a sensitive respect for their privacy.

What Hitch 22 does accomplish is to offer a stylish and lively sweep of 20th century history as it relates to politics, literature, and culture. To be sure, there are several personally intimate passages with a lucid eye to his early childhood and the complicated relationship he shared with his Jewish mother and his British military father, and some harrowing accounts of his boarding school experience.  But on the whole, the only thing personal about it is Hitchens as narrator, a man who has shared drinks with everyone from Hugo Chavez to Jorge Luis Borges.  When he comments on these men and countless others, for good or ill, you truly get the sense that you’re getting an insider’s perspective from a first rate journalist.  Having finished the book, one feels an excitement and responsibility to read and research so many works, events, and figures.  A late chapter in the book, on the author’s affectionate friendship with Edward Said, was particularly memorable and penetrating.

Ikiru, Akira Kurosawa

1952. Film. Similar thematically to “A Christmas Carol”, but without the fantastical elements. A stodgy bureaucrat (Takashi Shimura) who has accomplished little else in his career than job security learns that he will soon die. Panicked, he attempts to distract his conscience with vain pleasures and cheap thrills, until he’s stirred by a haunting ballad he hears in a seedy tavern. Narrative structure is very odd, yet simple. Though ultimately a sober morality tale, Kurosawa weaves a good deal of humor throughout. Highly recommended.

The John Gardner Challenge

I wrote this brief piece of creative writing in response to an exercise I found in John Gardner’s book “The Art of Fiction”.   The directions were as follows:

“Consider the following as a possible exercise in description.  Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war.  Do not mention the son, or war, or death.”


Unsteady, he made his way to the old barn at the far southerly end of the field.  All of the corn had turned to chaff, exposing the dirty ground from which it grew. And the gutted barn, hobbled as it was, stood looming over it all and visible from the hearth to the cloudy heavens. The entrance was wide open, the warped doors swung back long ago and now rutted in the ground. The land had turned itself against the barn from the day that it was first raised and for many years the struggle between the two was well-matched enough to the point of being uneventful.

But for some time now, that struggle had shifted, and the barn on the losing side, had begun its steady descent as the land absorbed its crooked beams and rotted boards and rusted metal into itself. The barn, which once appeared fresh and proud, now assumed a different air which resembled something like terminal exhaustion. It is the disoriented, almost fragmented peace, of a champion boxer, buckling dreamily beneath the swings of a young opponent who he stupidly agreed to face; the younger boxer, now champion, now ageless, now marshaling forth a harmony charged with adrenaline and extra power, dutifully carrying out the task for which he was hired.

The barn is of no use, for it threatens to collapse on anyone who would mistake it for a shelter. It is utterly destroyed and its own wooden limbs serve to mark its grave, the shingled roof, the loft, and the paint already sunk far beneath its once sure foundation.

Twin Peaks, David Lynch

1990. TV Series. The pilot episode to Lynch’s late 80’s/early 90′ thriller drama Twin Peaks is about as close to perfect as anything I’ve seen. Blond haired, blue eyed, Laura Palmer–the most upstanding, popular, athletic, intelligent, attractive, high school girl in town–has been found dead, wrapped in plastic sheet on the bank of a river.

Why? Well, the first hint is the show’s tagline: “In this town, nobody is innocent”.


Copywriting Exercise for Whirlpool

Directions:  Correct the original advertisement, and add what you think will make it better.


Innovation leads to power for creates a kitchen that helps our  consumer  get more done. From ovens thaat utilize a convection cooking system to gas and elecric cooktops designed to increase versatility, finding efficiency from appliance to appliance has never been smoother. Power, flexibility and style unite for a productive cooking experience.

 Outstanding spelling and word choice errors aside, I think “our customer” sounds impersonal and should be replaced by the simple pronoun “you”.    “Utilize” sounds overly technical to me and I thought about changing it to the simpler “use” but decided to leave it because it seemed to fit with the overall style of the writing.  Also, I think this piece needs to reference the brand it’s advertising which is why I’ve included “Whirpool” and “Whirpool Gold Ovens” in my submission.    Lastly the second sentence seemed clunky and unclear to me, so I changed a few things to make it a little more direct.  


Innovation leads to power. For Whirlpool, that means creating a kitchen that helps you get more done. Our new line of Whirlpool and Whirlpool Gold Ovens is designed to be smooth and efficient from appliance to appliance,  whether it be an oven that utilizes a convection cooking system or a gas and electric cooktop designed for seamless versatility. With these ovens, power, flexibility and style unite in your kitchen for a streamlined and productive cooking experience.

Homage to Moleskine

Having just shelved my third back-pocket Moleskine volume, I’m convinced that without this little book, I’d be lost. It wasn’t until the fourteenth of this new year that the latest 2011 Panoramic View Planning edition was delivered to my mailbox. Which is to say, I went thirteen days without being blessed by the clarifying quality of its content. And for that annual roughly two week interim, which brings the rapid upbraiding of all clear objectives and existential coherency, I’m always groggily reminded that my short and long term memory faculties are like attention-starved rival twin babies, in unremitting chorus trying to out-scream one another.

But then I open Moleskine once again. There committed to the page, in orderly fashion, I discover and rediscover my personal responsibilities, all my cool ideas, the prized cigar labels, the increasingly infrequent concert tickets, President’s Day, the strange and distorted sketches, drug prescriptions, my hopes and dreams. Always bound in something like leather, with the slender and piously woven bookmark, and the oft-celebrated paper pocket on the back-flap (cradling the insert full of dubious claims about Moleskins’ two century’s worth of contribution to the lives of historic “artists and thinkers”), Moleskine is a classic. Recommended.

The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave

2009. Novel. Cave is better known for his role as the lead singer of three Australian bands: The Birthday Party, Grinderman, and most notably, The Bad Seeds. He has also begun, over the last decade or so, to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the realms of both literature (“And The Ass Saw The Angel“) and script-writing (The Proposition). Rock stars frequently tackle projects in poetry or writing, but rarely without looking ridiculous. Cave is that rare exception.

His latest book, “The Death of Bunny Munro” is a calloused meditation on the destructive appetites of men. Bunny is a traveling salesmen peddling beauty products to lonely middle class women. After having arrived back from yet another adulterous business trip, he finds his wife has taken her life. The story’s morbid adventure begins here as a panic-stricken Bunny decides to take his son Bunny Jr. out on a road trip and show him some tricks of the trade.  Cave, commenting on the protagonist, said in an interview, “…and as you get to the end you realize that this guy is for all his charm, the worst human being on the planet.”

It must be said, Cave captures such a villain thoroughly. Indiscreet glimpses of Bunny’s private thoughts make it fairly clear that such a villain is really only a reflection of every man’s capacity to ruminate on distilled filth. Seven year old Bunny Jr. serves as a heartbreaking depiction of a son’s unconditional trust and admiration for his increasingly unhinged father. The severity with which Cave illustrates his vision of man’s nature reaches torturous levels. Though well written and in some ways profound, I have a hard time bringing to mind anyone to whom I’d recommend this dreary journey.

Clockers, Spike Lee

1995. Joint. Directed by Spike Lee and produced by Martin Scorsese, the harrowing film “Clockers” takes a street-level look at the lives of young thugs pushing crack in Brooklyn.  The story focuses on “Strike”, a very disciplined and principled clocker (crack dealer) who got into the business through a fatherly drug kingpin who taught him, from a very young age, that crack dealers never smoke crack. The kingpin cryptically warns him, “If God created anything better, he kept it to himself.” Spike Lee adroitly captures both the wretched and beautiful dimensions of the impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood that the story revolves around. Though crack and it’s victims permeate nearly every scene, the story is not hopeless or despairing. Rather, it offers a nuanced and in-depth portrait of a vibrant community that is in constant struggle against a massive yet elusive tyranny. Though never simplistic or black and white, I’ve always been refreshed by Spike Lee’s bold–uncool and old school as it may be–denunciations of moral relativism. John Turturro, Harvey Keitel, and Delroy Lindo all deserved best supporting actor nominations the year this film came out.

Collision of Lives, Darren Doane

2008.  Documentary.  Follows the recent east coast  tour that Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson set out on in promotion of their written exchange, a book titled “Is Christianity Good for the World?”.   Stopping at pubs and universities, the two men alternate between publicly debating one another, and gamely debating whoever shows up  to challenge either one of them.   Hitchens, the atheist, is relentless in his critique of  Christianity as a “wicked cult” that authorizes mass genocide (the Amalekites) and vicarious redemption through the brutal slaughter of man or beast.   Wilson employs the argument that belief in God is the only way to even begin critiquing any atrocity whatsoever.   There are many avenues and rabbit trails that the two men explore on the peripheries of this basic theme.

On the whole, the documentary is very well executed and entertaining.  Along the way, the men seem to become BFF’s, reciting poetry to one another and occasionally telling off-color jokes.   Their final exchange, which takes place in a limousine with Christopher Hitchens exhausted, slightly buzzed, and disarmingly candid, is astonishing and not easily forgotten.  Recommended. 

The Proposition, John Hillcoat


2005. Film. The plot is simple and direct: Three outlaw brothers allegedly ride in from the Australian outback and mindlessly murder a family living in a frontier town. Following an unrelated shootout with the authorities, two of the brothers are captured. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is given the choice of either watching his younger brother be hung in a weeks time, or agreeing to hunt down and kill his as yet captured elder brother (a Clint Eastwood type Colonel Kurtz). Near flawless performances by Ray Winstone and John Hurt delightfully flavor every scene these characters occupy. Story is ultra compelling. Some kind of a nod to a set of insoluble ethics or a constraining moral framework would be nice. Every character, every conflict, and just about every line in this film is shrouded in moral ambiguity. And yes, it’s violent.