Comforting as cocoa, a heartfelt first novel inspired by the letters and poems of Wright’s own late grandfather.

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LETTERS FOR EMILY

A grandfather’s legacy to his troubled family.

Harry Whitney has been told that he has Alzheimer’s—and he knows it’s only a matter of time until his mind will go. His two children are grown, and his beloved wife Kathryn died many years ago. Harry spends as much time as he can with his six-year-old granddaughter Emily, whose mother Laura brings her to visit every Friday. His son Bob, a self-absorbed pharmaceutical rep, plans to relocate to San Diego and divorce Laura for no particularly compelling reason. Bob’s just not happy, that’s all. Laura is perplexed. Does anyone besides her care about the old man’s welfare? His daughter Michelle visits only at Christmas: Her husband Greg is controlling and cold, and their children hardly know their grandfather. But Harry soldiers on, working in his garden when he can and writing in secret—poems, letters, advice, mostly to Emily—in a futile effort to stay sane. Still, his behavior changes, the signs of impending derangement all too clear. Then, before his well-meaning family can put him into a nursing home, Harry dies peacefully. Laura and Bob sort through his belongings and find a hand-bound book of poems. The rhymes are odd, but it’s plain that the old man was trying to tell them something. Once they figure out the simple code (usually concerning the first letters of significant words in each poem), they can access his computer files with the password given—and there they find his letters to Emily, filled with homespun anecdotes, heretofore unknown family history, and words of love. Harry also left other clues: there may be treasure hidden somewhere in the house. Greg and Bob rent a metal detector, and the treasure turns out to be infinitely more valuable than anyone expected. Reconciliation, inner peace, and tears of happy joy await all.

Comforting as cocoa, a heartfelt first novel inspired by the letters and poems of Wright’s own late grandfather.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-4446-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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