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


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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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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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