Showing 1 - 10 of 564 annotations in the genre "Novel"

Essex Serpent, The

Perry, Sarah

Last Updated: Sep-07-2017
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The idea for her second novel came to Sarah Perry in a flash (Ref. 1) as her husband was telling her about the 1699 sighting of a serpent or dragon in Henham, a village slightly to the northwest of the town of Essex, where Ms.Perry was born in 1979. The late 19th century events of the novel occur primarily in Aldwinter, a fictional fishing village on the Blackwater estuary.  Divided into 4 books (with titles derived from a 1669 pamphlet on the Serpent), each with subdivisions by month, further subdivided into chapters, the story takes place over 11 calendar months, from New Year's Eve to November, 1892. Although the story does not feel complicated and should not be difficult to describe in a synopsis, it is a tribute to the novelist's Dickensian talents  that in fact it is somewhat complex, involving four couples and their various children and friends and their increasingly intricate relationships, all revolving around the palpable feeling in Aldwinter that the famous Essex Serpent has returned, resurfaced, or decided to re-animate all the lives therein. The protagonist is Cora Seaborne,  a recently widowed free-thinker, adept in biology and natural sciences, and mother of an adolescent boy, Francis, who would nowadays probably receive the label "autistic." After the death of her abusive husband from oropharyngeal cancer, Cora becomes emotionally involved with Luke Garrett, the treating surgeon, an idiosyncratic, brilliant man, who has a bosom buddy, George Spencer (simply called "Spencer"), a very wealthy former medical school classmate. With an introduction from her friends Charles and Katherine Ambrose, Cora and Martha - her intimate companion - visit William (often referred to as just "Will") and his wife Stella Ransome in Aldwinter, where Will is the parish minister and father to three children. The eldest is Joanna, a precocious adolescent girl one imagines, alongside a younger Cora, as a younger version of this novel's author, who describes herself as vibrantly curious of all her surroundings while growing up in Essex as a young girl. (Ref. 2)

With the arrival of Cora and Martha in Aldwinter, the narrative begins in earnest with the development of the mounting anxiety over the mysterious events (a missing boat, unexplained drownings) attributed to possibly a resurgent Essex Serpent besetting Aldwinter; Luke's miraculous operation saving a man named Edward Burton from a knife wound to the heart; the increasingly romantic relationship between Cora and Will, to Luke's dismay; Stella's rapidly progressive pulmonary tuberculosis; the disappearance of Naomi Banks, a friend of Joanna; and an attack on Luke by the same man who had knifed Edward Burton. By novel's end, without spoiling the plot, most loose ends have been cauterized, left more neatly dangling or deftly retied.  


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We Are All Welcome Here

Berg, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Aug-14-2017
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Based on the true story of a girl whose single mother is paralyzed by polio, this novel offers readers an unusual opportunity to reflect on particular challenges of living with a person with disability--in this case a person of remarkable resourcefulness and determination. Berg richly develops this story of how mother, daughter, and longtime caregiver/babysitter cope with the practical demands of daily life, the social pressures of growing up in a small gossipy Southern town in the civil rights era, the isolation of immobility, and the facts of ignorance and petty cruelty toward those who live on the margins. Told from the daughter's point of view, including her bouts of impatience, frustration, bewilderment, and anxiety for her mother and the ways her own adolescent concerns sometimes eclipse larger matters that loom in the world outside, the story has the psychological nuance and poignant authenticity I've come to expect of Berg's novels. 

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The Story of Beautiful Girl

Simon, Rachel

Last Updated: Aug-07-2017
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

On a stormy night in 1968 a retired, widowed schoolteacher in rural Pennsylvania opens her door to find a young couple, she white, he African American, wrapped in blankets, drenched, and silent.  Letting them in changes her life.  They have escaped together from a nearby mental institution most locals simply call "The School."  The young woman has recently given birth.  When Martha lets them in, her life changes forever.   Supervisors from "the School" show up at the door, the young man escapes, and the young woman, memorably beautiful, is taken back into custody.  The only words she is able to speak out of what we learn has been a years-long silence are "Hide her."  Thus she leaves her newborn baby to be raised by a stranger.  The remaining chapters span more than forty years in the stories of these people, linked by fate and love and the brutalities of an unreformed system that incarcerated, neglected, and not infrequently abused people who were often misdiagnosed.  Homan, the young man who loved Lynnie, the beautiful girl from the institution, was deaf, not retarded.  Lynnie was simply "slow," but a gifted artist who recorded many of the events of her life in drawings she shared only with the one attendant who valued and loved her.  Though her pregnancy resulted from being raped by a staff member, the deaf man longs to protect her and care for the baby.  Years separate them; Homan eventually learns signing; Lynnie's sister befriends her and an exposé results in the closure of the institution.  Over those years Lynnie and Homan witness much cultural change in treatment of people like them who were once systematically excluded.  They find social identities that once would have been entirely unavailable to them.  And eventually, after literal and figurative journeys of discovery, they rediscover each other.   

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The Illumination

Brockmeier, Kevin

Last Updated: Jun-28-2017
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Brockmeier constructed this novel as six individual stories. No overriding plot carries across all the stories, and none of the individual stories has much of a plot either. But, each is tangentially related to the subsequent story through a journal comprising love notes written daily by a husband to his wife that passes from one story to the next.  

I love the ball you curl into when you wake up in the morning but don’t want to get out from under the covers. I love the last question you ask me before bedtime. I love the way you alphabetize the CDs, but arrange the books by height. I love you in your blue winter coat that looks like upholstery fabric. I love the scent of your hair just after you’ve taken a shower… (p. 16)  

The stories share characters, but only insofar as they are involved in the transfer of the journal.  

Also connecting the stories is a phenomenon in which visible light is produced from the location of the body where there is pain, injury, or disease, and in one case an inanimate object—the journal. It just started to happen.  

The Illumination: who had coined the term, which pundit or editorial writer, no one knew, but soon enough—within hours, it seemed—that was what people were calling it. The same thing was happening all over the world. In hospitals and prison yards, nursing home and battered women’s shelters, wherever the sick and injured were found, a light could be seen flowing from their bodies. Their wounds were filled with it, brimming. (p. 138)  

The Illumination
is part of every story, but never the main subject. It’s noticed, it’s discussed, it’s contemplated, and eventually accommodated as part of daily existence:  “everyone began to accept that pain now came coupled together with light.” (p. 139) The Illumination is always there, was always there, and will always be there because “there is no such thing as photonic degradation, that light was effectively immortal, or at least as immortal as the universe itself.” (p. 256)

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The Bride Price: A Novel

Emecheta, Buchi

Last Updated: Apr-04-2017
Annotated by:
Saleh, Mona

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel set in Lagos, Nigeria among a polygamous peoples and follows the formative years of protagonist Ibo Aku-nna as she experiences the death of her father, the horror of starting menstruation, and falling in love with her teacher, Chike, of whom the elders in her family do not approve because he comes from a family that was previously enslaved. 

Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to several traditions, which speak to how women are valued less than men in this setting. For instance, when Aku-nna’s father dies, her mother must go through a special procedure for mourning, described here: 

“Ma Blackie was to remain alone in the special hut; not until the months of mourning were over could she visit people in their homes. She must never have a bath. No pair of scissors nor comb must touch her hair. She must wear continually the same old smoked rags” (p. 71). 

Another tradition is  the concept of the bride price, which is the sum of money paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage. The more valuable a daughter is (whether in appearance or family status), the higher the bride price. Further, if a girl’s bride price is not paid, it was the belief that the bride would die during childbirth.

When Aku-nna is sixteen, she finishes her schooling and learns that she has passed an examination that qualifies her to be a schoolteacher. At the same time, a youth with a limp in her village, named Okoboshi, sets his sights on her to become his wife. His family then kidnaps  Aku-nna. When a bride is kidnapped, her bride price does not apply, and it does not have to be paid. Also, if a man cuts away a lock from a girl's hair, she becomes his wife and he, again, is not responsible for paying the bride price:

“Some youth who had no money to pay for a bride might sneak out of the bush to cut a curl from a girl’s head so that she would belong to him for life and never been able to return to her parents: because he had given her the everlasting haircut, he would be able to treat her as he liked, and no other man would ever touch her. It was to safeguard themselves against this that many girls cropped their hair very close; those who wanted long hair wore a headscarf most of the time” (p. 103). 

When Okoboshi tries to have sex with Aku-nna, she refuses and says that it is because she has already lost her virginity to Chike, even though she really had not.  In disgust, Okoboshi stops trying to have sex with Aku-nna and beats her savagely, vowing to keep her as his wife in name only but then marry other women, whom Aku-nna would have to serve. Through initiative and luck, Aku-nna escapes from Okoboshi’s house and elopes with Chike. Despite how much money Chike’s family tries to pay Aku-nna’s family as her bride price, they will not accept it.  

Meanwhile, Aku-nna finds work as a school teacher and Chike is also successful at his work. They are very happy together for a time, and Aku-nna becomes pregnant. She struggles very much with her pregnancy and becomes quite weak as a result. One night, Aku-nna becomes sick and is admitted to the hospital, where the doctor informs her and Chike that she must undergo a Cesarean section and have her baby prematurely.  A baby girl is born healthy, but Aku-nna perishes due to extreme anemia, according to her doctor. Thus, the novel ends in confirmation of the superstition that if a girl’s bride price is not paid, she will die in childbirth. 

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The Wilderness

Harvey, Samantha

Last Updated: Dec-13-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jake Jameson is an architect who came of age in immediate post World War II London. He grew up in “the wilderness” of the English moors and peat bogs far from London. He returns to this wilderness with a wife and an infant son, and to where his mother, a childhood friend, and many memories still live. We read about his successful career, his Jewish mother and her flight from her native Austria, his marriage to Helen and her unexpected death after about 30 years of marriage, his infidelities, his son’s incarceration in a prison he designed, his daughter’s death as a young child, and how eventually the wilderness he lived in moved from the moors to his brain. We don’t learn all of this easily because it comes in one form through Jake’s damaged memory and in another form through the tellings of more reliable witnesses. We are left in our own confused state about certain parts of story until the corrections and clarifications come later in the book. For example, we can go far into the novel thinking that Helen could have died from falling from a cherry tree until we learn near the very end that she died from a stroke, probably.

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This ambitious novel presents unusual events ten years after an international adoption.  Because of the Chinese one-child policy, Chinese peasant woman Xiao Lu abandons her second daughter Chun in a rural market, knowing that the child will be sent to an orphanage. An American couple adopt the child, calling her Katie. As a celebration for Katie’s tenth birthday, they return to southwest China, hoping to meet the birth mother.  

In a series of unusual events, they find Xiao Lu, and it is, at first, a joyous event. Troubles mount, however, as the birth mother wants Katie to stay with her, and Katie feels a mystical bond between them. Xiao Lu, having left her husband, now lives as a hermit in a hut on the slopes of The One Hundred Mile Mountain. She sweeps the 100 steps of The Elephant Temple daily and practices calligraphy in her hut.  

Pep and Clio Macy, having married late, could not get pregnant. The novel satirizes them as aging Yuppies, spoiled and materialistic. Clio wears a Movado watch worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The family’s cockerpoo has been boarded at home. Katie dislikes being the only Chinese American in her private school.  

After the birth mother has been found, the mood of the book changes. Xiao Lu wants her child returned, and the Macys fear that they are in danger. In the last 100 pages, nature itself attacks the Americans with snakes, monkeys, bats, a huge millipede, and even the weather. Pep is injured and receives rough, traditional medical treatment from a monk; it appears to be effective, however, in healing his heart physically and spiritually—a resonance with the book’s title. Katie becomes more and more like Xiao, learning calligraphy and some Chinese language. When Xiao is grievously injured by the monkeys, the Macys effectively care for her, and previous conflicts are resolved.

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The Anatomist's Apprentice

Harris, Tessa

Last Updated: Oct-17-2016
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1780, Thomas Silkstone, a young American surgeon and anatomist, is invited by Lydia to establish the cause of death of her brother, Lord Crick, a dissolute who held the Oxfordshire estate that she will inherit. Her goal is to absolve her husband of the suspicion of murder; however, as the investigation proceeds, it increasingly seems that her husband is guilty after all.

 The earnest young doctor methodically examines each new lead—performing experiments on tissues and with various poisons in his effort to determine the cause of death – and in so doing solve a murder. Before long, another person is dead and Thomas is in love with Lydia, a scarcely concealed complication that calls his testimony into question.

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The People in the Trees

Yanagihara, Hanya

Last Updated: Oct-10-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel takes the form of a memoir written from prison. The fictional author is Dr. Norton Perina who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering what caused some people on a remote Micronesian island to live for up to 250 years or longer. Dr. Ronald Kubodera, Perina’s long-time colleague, convinced him to write the memoir while he was in prison. Perina sent Kubodera a chapter at a time, which he would then “lightly edit” and add occasional footnotes to elaborate on a given section. 

Perina is in prison for being convicted on “two counts of sexual assault,” (p. 349) though we can believe he is guilty of many more counts. All of these transgressions involved children, many of whom were under his care as their adopted father. However, the bulk of the memoir is not about the behavior that lands him in prison. Instead, it tells of Perina’s successful scientific investigations of a hidden people in a secluded partition of an unknown island in Micronesia. He came to this place while stumbling around for a career direction after medical school, and then came to discover the hidden people when stumbling upon one lying on the forest floor.

Perina eventually linked the consumption of the meat of a particular turtle on this island to a prolongation of life measured in hundreds of years. Only the inhabitants who reached around 60 years were given the turtle meat and only during a ceremony to mark the milestone. While the bodies of these people remained as they were physically when they consumed the turtle meat, their minds did not. As they aged they became non compos mentis—“all they could do was jitter and babble and laugh at nothing, the neighing laughter of the brainless.” (p. 95) Perina’s published papers called attention to a possible fountain of youth and produced the expected rush among pharmaceutical companies to distill the turtle’s magic into a pill. All they managed to do instead was to destroy the island’s habitats,
corrupt its people, and hunt the turtles into extinction.
 

Very little is said in Perina’s memoir about any activities leading to his pedophilia conviction until the very end; however, occasional hints that Perina could be a pedophile appear before then. At one point in particular he describes an encounter with a 10-year old boy from the village that might have awakened any such tendencies that had been dormant. Another time he admits “some of the only comfort (and certainly the only amusement) I’d found had been with the village’s children.” (p. 267). During subsequent trips to the island over the next few decades, Perina adopted 43 island children and brought them home to raise as his own. He was drawn to children, but in not so innocent a manner. Only at the very end of book, and only in the postscript, do we get any details about how he preyed upon these children.

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Tell

Itani, Frances

Last Updated: Sep-22-2016
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Kenan Oak returns from World War I to a small Ontario town. He is virtually unable to speak and dares not venture from his home. Adopted by a reclusive uncle at an early age, he has no immediate family but his wife, Tressa, who loves him and accepts his disability with good grace. They have been trying to have a child without success, and the glimmers of Kenan’s recovery are dauntingly few and faint. Slowly with the help of his uncle Am, he begins to go out at night for walks in the woods and skating on the ice of the lake.  

Am and his wife Maggie have a strained marriage. She loves to sing and once aspired to a career in music, but instead she opted for Am and a farm—although now they live in town. Lukas, a gifted new musician arrives to direct the choir; he is a postwar immigrant from an unnamed European country, possibly Germany. He notices her talent and encourages her to sing solo at the upcoming New Year’s concert. Unused to the attention, she is captivated by him, his mystique, his appreciation of her, and the return of joy through song. They have an affair, which is discovered by Am.  

Well into the story, it emerges that Am and Maggie had lost two children to diphtheria, and this trauma is at the heart of their marital strife. It is why they left their farm and have grown apart.  But Maggie imposed an edict of silence on this exquisitely painful past. In contrast, Tressa slowly encourages her silent husband to tell—by inventing stories for him and letting him revise.  His adoptive uncle gives him a postage-stamp sized photograph of his nameless mother and grandmother; together they construct a story.
 

Maggie falls pregnant with Lukas’s baby. She goes away to have the child but Am cannot accept it. Compounding Maggie’s woe, she stays with Am—for all their strife, they are bound in their loss. She allows Tressa and Kenan to adopt her beloved baby.  

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