Showing 1 - 10 of 41 annotations in the genre "Collection (Short Stories)"

Black Bag Moon

Butler, Susan

Last Updated: Apr-19-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Black Bag Moon is a collection (one is tempted to say a "mixed black bag") of short stories (but not clearly "short fictions" - clarified below) about medical patients. The reputed authors are identified as these patients' physicians, who recount these stories in first person. By my math, there are nine authors who narrate stories about 37 patients in 29 chapters. Most chapters have two patients in unrelated stories that sometimes share a theme. Several of the authors know each other as colleagues and two are a married medical couple. Most of the stories occur in Australia or New Zealand but some are in places are as far flung as England, Scotland and unidentified, possibly fictional, islands in the South Pacific. The practitioners are, for the most part, family physicians and care for people of all ages, providing care for everything from breast masses to congestive heart failure to trauma to occupational health to - almost overwhelmingly - mental illness threatening severe violence. The last - serious mental illness -  is, as are all the patients and their illnesses in this volume, almost exotically different from anything most readers of this database are likely to encounter as health care providers or readers. Think Crocodile Dundee or perhaps television's Dr. Quinn or ‘Doc' Adams of Gunsmoke. Or all the above but in the late 20th Century Outback.

Since most of the stories involve working men and women - mainly men - there is a decided flavor of  A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin's The Citadel to the stories; but the peculiar aspect of Australia's frontier pervades each encounter with the patients in this book, whether they are being treated over the radio for breast lumps, being airlifted to the hospital for a badly broken elbow, or becoming demented from environmental toxins in a land and time wherein OSHA and DEP (and the principles underlying them) might as well be acronyms from Mars.

Curiously, for fiction, there are intermittent footnotes to literary (Honore de Balzac, Soubiran) sources, historical figures (Hippocrates) and relevant texts on subjects covered in the stories, e.g., petrol-sniffing, tropical diseases, and physical diagnosis. 

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This collection of 16 short stories focuses on doctors and patients in San Francisco, where a wide variety of wealth and culture impact the delivery of medical care.  Further, there are many restrictions—financial, bureaucratic, ethical, and legal —that limit what doctors can do, especially in cases of patients near death.

The author, Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician who knows this terrain very well, having trained in San Francisco and worked as a physician there. A skilled writer and close observer, she has created dramatic and often funny stories that reveal social and bioethical complexity. About half the stories describe end-of-life issues for the aged and the dilemmas for their physicians and families.

In ‘The Promise,” Dr. Westphall orders comfort care only for an elderly patient who has suffered a massive stroke, but a hospital gives full treatment because there was no advance directive and the daughter told the attending to do “what he thought best.”

When Dr. Westphall sees this barely functioning patient in a skilled nursing facility seven months later, he tenderly washes her face and hair—although the text teases us that he might have been prepared to kill her.

In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor is in jail charged with murder; he has fulfilled the request of Consuela, a Parkinson’s patient, to help her die. When it appears that she may have died for other reasons, he is released, his life “ruined.” He leaves San Francisco, and, we surmise, medicine. In three other stories, doctors also leave the profession: the cumulative stresses of work and family and/or a sense that it’s not the right path bring them to that choice.

On the other hand, one of the longer pieces “Becoming a Doctor” celebrates the profession, despite all the rigors of training including sexism against women. 

The stories bring multicultural insights; we read of people from China, Cambodia, Latin America, India, Russia, and the Philippines. Some are African-American; some Jewish, some gay. These different backgrounds color notions of health, death, and medical care. There are also pervasive issues of poverty and, at another extreme, professionalism that is hyper-rational and heartless.

Indeed, a recurring theme is care and love for people, no matter their background or current health status. A surgeon realizes (regrettably too late) that the secret of medical care is “caring for the patient—for anyone—just a little. Enough, but not too much” (p. 135). 

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Summary:

This is a collection of four stories and a novella with pervasive themes of death, loss, grieving, mourning, and anger; the characters live in rural parts of the upper midwest, and there is much unhappiness in their lives.

In "Catch and Release," we accompany Danny, a talented fishing guide "not quite thirty," as he floats down a stream he knows well. He and his siblings have divided his father's ashes, his portion now in a thermos. His father died suddenly, absurdly on a bathroom floor. Although Danny knows nature well (and loves it), he is angry and heartsick. Nor is religion a comfort. Bit by bit he scatters the ashes, but there is no healing ritual.

In "Bloodsport" a young man murders is wife and then kills himself. The town funeral director feels this is "utterly incomprehensible" but provides his professional services to the family and all who  come to the service and burial. He knew the young woman, Elena, and found her attractive; now he embalms her. Twenty years later he feels a "sense of shame" that men "let her down badly."

"Hunter's Moon" presents Harold, a casket salesman. Retired, he goes on long walks, trying to make sense of is life and loves. He likes naming things. His first wife left him for another woman. His daughter (pregnant and drunk) was killed by a train. His second wife left him. His third wife died of cancer. He abuses antidepressants and liquor. Sitting on his front porch, he slumps over. All night a dog keeps watch over, we assume, his dead body.

In "Matineé de Septembre" we find a reworking of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice." In both stories, a literary figure escapes ordinary time, falling in love with a young person of the opposite sex, and falling into decadent gestures in the hope of recapturing youth. Both efforts end in failure and death. In Mann's story, the person is an older man of much literary accomplishment. In Lynch's retelling, the person is a professor and "poet of note," although not really of international fame. Actually she's a woman of inherited wealth, a wealthy snob, a narcissist, a survivor of a "perfectly bargained marriage." Her one child was stillborn. A dozen hints at her headaches suggest that she is doomed, and she dies in the last paragraph, without (as in the Mann story) the notice of the literary world.

After these grim tales comes the satiric (and also grim) novella, "Apparition." We follow one Adrian Littlefield (the last name is symbolic) who was a strait-laced pastor, then (after his wife left him) a self-help author who urged post-divorce people to live it up. The satire is trenchant. Adrian's big book is "Good Riddance." A church fundraiser with gambling allows "otherwise devout people to wallow in sin for a worthy cause." Adrian has girlfriends and one-nighters. He's an expensive speaker. Fortunately one Mary De Dona provides him with gratuitous sex, and he is saved. Now 50+, he visits the empty house where his wife once lived, learning little; his tour guide, one "Gloria" is in her 70s, married for 58 years, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wishes he could have had such a life and feels "a wave of sadness." 

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The Island

Herling, Gustaw

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The Island is a collection of three stories sharing a similar setting (Italy) and populated by several characters who are outcasts. In the title story, the relationship between residents of an island and its medieval monastery, the Certosa, decays over time. When a talented stonemason is accidentally injured, his damaged senses are replaced by pain and suffering. His struggle and sacrifice, however, ultimately result in redemption for all those who inhabit "The Island."

In the eighteenth century, a 20 year old leper is condemned to live the remainder of his life in a tower fittingly known as the Tower of Fright. Although befriended by a stranger, the occupant of "The Tower" must nevertheless endure solitude, and he does so with the patience and grace of a saint. With the backdrop of a plague, "The Second Coming" is a medieval tale that recounts the torture of a doubting priest, an unknown pilgrim’s participation in a miracle, and the death of a pope.

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

New York is the setting for thirteen linked stories that profile a long line of curious and sometimes loony doctors who are passionate about medical science but often lack common sense and good judgment. Beginning with Dr. Olaf van Schuler in the seventeenth century and continuing over more than 300 years with generations of his descendants (the Steenwycks), missteps and madness loom large in this inquisitive and peculiar medical family.

Most of these doctors share common goals: They strive to eliminate pain. They attempt to expand the scope of medical knowledge. They seek the soul. In their quest for cures and enlightenment, many of these physician-scientists, their relatives, and patients embrace off-beat diagnostic techniques or unproven remedies: phrenology, magnetism, bloodletting, hypnosis, radium-emitting apparatus, electrical shocks, and lobotomy.

In "The Siblings," a doctor performs a lobotomy on his sister. She dies a few months after the operation. In "The Story of Her Breasts," a woman develops rheumatoid arthritis that may or may not be caused by her silicone breast implants. She also experiences guilt and worry after encouraging her 18-year-old daughter to undergo breast augmentation. In "The Baquet," hope is undeniable and a miracle cure is mesmerizing. In the book's final story, "The Doctors," two physicians - a father and his daughter - grapple with their strained relationship and the man's progressive deterioration that might be due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This collection of physician experiences, colored by the necessity of the writer to protect  his patients, gives a glimpse into a medical practice of a time past-remembered by some of us, not  known by our younger colleagues.  Dr. Palmer, aka Harry Byrd, takes the reader into a rural setting and  the practice of surgery bounded by the time and the place.  Dr. Byrd, trained in Boston as a surgeon,  chooses to practice in rural Maine and to work with the culture and needs of this environment.  He  treats the reader to a viewpoint of another era of medicine and, at some level, asks the readers to  consider the lost or fading qualities of the pre-tech doctor/patient relationship.

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Second Language

Wineberg, Ronna

Last Updated: Sep-25-2007
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Summary: All thirteen short stories in this collection draw readers into the quietly compelling lives of disparate and very ordinary characters who function and suffer in unsettling ways. We are like them and not like them, but their circumstances, while sometimes disturbing, are familiar--and strangely magnetic. The opening lines of "The Lapse" illustrate this power of attraction:

I married Joanne during a lapse. A religious lapse. I don't display my beliefs like a gold medallion, though, as many whom I know do. I prefer to observe in private. After all, any intimate relationship belongs only to the entities or people involved. (p. 35)

Who can bypass an invitation to enter into announced intimacies, however private, that must be revealed in a matter of pages. What lapse and who is Joanne?!

"Bad News," centers around Sheila Powers, a psychologist, whose disruptive marital break-up is compounded by her mother's recent diagnosis of cancer and a subsequent flow of memories about her mother, her father, and herself. She is "between worlds...between life zones." (p. 113) Aspects of the future, at least her mother's, may be somewhat predictable, but the complex depths of the past mix with the present to generate sticky threads that belong to the story and to the readers as well who will recognize bits and pieces of their own family lives.

In a fourteen page story with a decidedly off-putting title, "The Encyclopedia," Wineberg zeroes in on Doris who, after a dissolved relationship, decides to sell the thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica-"the macro-edition, the micro-edition and the year books" purchased by the former couple. Not about remote bits of history or dinosaurs, we discover, but a story about separation, a series of lovers, benign conversation with a fellow worker who claims to be similarly tired of men, a possible buyer for the unwanted encyclopedia, a relationship with the married buyer, an end to the relationship, and a decision to keep the books after all. Her life, we might decide, is encyclopedic, a litany of minutiae that does, indeed, provide information about conditions of existence.

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Jay Baruch offers readers a series of multi-layered stories focusing on caregivers, both professionals (doctors and nurses primarily) and family members, and those they are trying to care for. The setting for a number of the stories (and therefore a number of the characters) is from the working class or underclass. Another group of stories is written from the perspective of medical students, residents or physicians early in their training. In all the stories, the characters' lives are close and full of conflict. The language they use to express themselves is raw and direct. There are no simple solutions to their problems. Yet struggle on do these characters, testing the limits of their compassion and abilities to deliver care at least competently.

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Mother of Sorrows

McCann, Richard

Last Updated: May-09-2007
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This partly autobiographical collection of linked stories could, as the author notes at his web site, be considered a novel as much as a collection. There is a single first-person (unnamed) narrator throughout, a circumscribed cast of characters, a timeline of almost 30 years, and "individual stories [that speak] to each other and [gather] force as they go forward" (see interview at the author's web site). At the center of these reflections and of the narrator's life is his enigmatic, beautiful mother, "Our Mother of the Sighs and Heartaches . . . Our Mother of the Mixed Messages," "Our Mother whom I adored and whom, in adoring, I ran from, knowing it 'wrong' for a son to wish to be like his mother" (17). The book also delves significantly into the relationship between the narrator and his older brother, and to a lesser extent concerns the narrator's relationship with his father, who dies when the narrator is 11 years old. Interwoven throughout is the narrator's growing awareness and suppression of his own homosexuality.

All the stories are refracted through memory, back to when the narrator was nine years old, living with his brother, mother, and father in post-World War II Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. The stories progress through a roaming young adulthood of lies and random sexual encounters; and move into adulthood, committed relationships, and accumulating personal losses. In addition to the mother, of almost equal importance is the narrator's ambivalent relationship to his brother, Davis, who is sometimes an ally and sometimes a competitor or antagonist. Initially contemptuous of the narrator's identification with his mother, Davis later leads a defiant, drug dependent, and openly homosexual life while the narrator himself remains closeted to his parents and to many others. The narrator depicts himself and his brother as Cain and Abel, only "I was Cain and Abel both, as was my brother" (158).

Particularly striking are "My Mother's Clothes: The School of Beauty and Shame," "The Diarist," and "My Brother in the Basement." In "My Mother's Clothes" McCann develops themes of the narrator's infatuation with his mother, his guilt about that, his uncomfortable relationship with his father, and renunciation -- of his friendship with another boy. "The Diarist" focuses on the narrator's difficult interaction with his father, who expects masculine behavior from him, and with brother Davis, who seems to have no trouble fitting into the role expected of him. "My Brother in the Basement" moves forward into young adulthood and the shocking outcome of Davis's life, and the narrator's retrospective and revisionist analysis of that time.

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