Ginnah Howard

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Rope & Bone

Novel Night Navigation

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Excerpt from Night Navigation

View from a ridge of the Catskill Mountains in winter.



The house is cold. He doesn’t look at her, just sits hunched at the kitchen table, with the hood of his sweatshirt up: under cover. Her son. He is even thinner than when she left.

The stink of cigarettes. Something rotting in the dark of a cupboard and the sink is right to the top with dirty dishes, hardened strings of spaghetti, grease congealed in a pan. A still life. She could paint it on a wall of canvas: Moldy glasses big as barrels, their funhouse faces wavering beyond. Welcome Home.

The wood box is empty. She knows, without even going in there, what the bottom of the tub looks like. One whole end of the pole barn will be stacked high with trash, a month’s worth of garbage, leaking random pools on the floor. And all of it is pretty much how she thought it would be given what he was up to when she left.

“I’m too sick to do anything,” he says. His hands pull at the sides of his hood.

“I can see that.” Close the shutters. Goodbye.

“Luke took off running with Bensons’ dogs just before you came up the road.”

When Luke didn’t come rushing to greet her, she’d hoped it was only this. How she’s missed that dog.

“Some woman from your painters’ group called. It’s on the machine.” He finally looks her way. “If you can drive me up to Carla’s to get enough to where I can function for the next few days, I’ll be able to make the calls to line up a bed at a detox. I’ll get some wood in, clean up around here. Make me almost normal.”


“This dark debut is a wrenching account of a mother and son moving together and apart in an increasingly tragic family drama. In alternating memoirs, Del and Mark deal with heroin addiction and mental illness (his) and fears (hers) of a fate marked by junkies, pushers, halfway houses and recovery programs. But it’s the persistent ghosts of a father and another son, and the guilt over their deaths that hold Del and Mark in a vise grip. Between grief and addiction, there’s no easy forgiveness for these sad survivors. Through one bitter, lonely year, Mark and Del lose and find one another repeatedly, and they come to realize that loving someone means letting them love themselves. Howard is a graceful, spare and fluid writer, and her somber and bleak novel has the power to lift and inspire.”

Publishers Weekly review,
     January 12, 2009

Night Navigation is unerring in its grasp of the multiple deceptions of the addictive relationship, the self-deception above all. You can’t help getting furious at these characters. And you canvt help loving them.”

— Peter Trachtenberg, author of
     The Book of Calamities



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