Patricia Kambitsch

Reader's Guide

Starting Points for Discussion of
Looks Like Howard

Looks Like Howard, the dark and playful memoir by native Daytonian Patricia Kambitsch, chronicles one woman’s struggle to make sense of the stories surrounding the death of her father.  Looks Like Howard raises questions central to the study of memoir as a genre: To what extend to we invent our own truth about the past? What do our stories tell us about ourselves?     

1. Though the memoir describes a tragic childhood, Looks Like Howard avoids melodrama with comic irreverence and dark irony.  How does Kambitsch develop the book’s themes of death, grief, and depression and yet maintain a comic voice?  How does comic voice contribute to the development of the themes of the memoir?

2.  Kambitsch openly questions the accuracy of family stories based on memory. “I want a truth that’s bigger than mere fact,” writes Kambitsch. “I want to write about the shadowy insides, the double meanings, the delicate connections that only a partially informed but fully-developed imagination can grasp.” How does Kambitsch’s partially informed imagination reinvent the truth in the memoir?   What is the value of a self-created “bigger truth” in the lives of the narrator and her family members?  To what extent does memory both distort and create personal history?

3. As the setting shifts from childhood tales to the present day adulthood, the memoir alternates between past and present tenses. How does this shift affect the voice of the narrator and develop the themes of the story? 

4. The narrator contradicts herself often throughout the memoir. From the first two lines, “Ever since I’ve known Howard he’s been dead. Now, that’s not entirely true…” Kambitsch questions the accuracy of her own stories. She struggles with discovering meaning based on a memory compromised by imagination, dreams, and family storytelling.  How do these contradictions and questions affect interpretation of other events presented in the memoir? Do contradictions of fact challenge or reinforce the understood meaning of memoir as non-fiction?

5. Catholic ritual receives playful treatment often in the memoir. Children perform pretend masses and funerals.  Both as a child and as an adult, the narrator “plays Jesus.”  How does the Kambitsch’s relationship to Catholicism evolve as the memoir progresses?

6. Tensions between the narrator, her mother, and her siblings in the present day reflect issues brought up early in childhood.  How are these issues resolved?

7.  In developing the narrative of her memoir, Kambitsch employs classic plot devices traditionally reserved to fiction.  These include foreshadowing, flashback, plot twists, stock characterizations, and the hero’s quest.  What other techniques of fiction does Kambitsch employ?  How else does Kambitsch blur the line between fiction and nonfiction? From what other genres does Kambitsch borrow?

8. Kambitsch describes her dead father as an ideal character with few flaws.  How does Kambitsch contrast the living people in her life with the ideal set by stories of her father? What do these comparisons reveal about the character of the narrator?

9. To what extent can the narrator know her dead father?  In all her searching, what does she learn about Howard? By searching for facts about her father, what does she learn about her family? How does she come to know herself?

10. In fiction, the “unreliable narrator” is a literary device in which the author compromises the credibility of the narrator. How does Kambitsch’s use of this device engage the reader and further the themes of the memoir?