Showing 1 - 10 of 1212 Fiction annotations

Augustown

Miller, Kei

Last Updated: Oct-03-2017
Annotated by:
McClelland, Spencer

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set in the loosely fictionalized Jamaican town of Augustown (“loosely,” as it bears a strong resemblance to August Town, which was absorbed over time into the expansion of Kingston), the novel spans three generations of a single family.  The novel moves back and forth easily through different moments in time, from the birth of Rastafariansim in 1920 under British colonional rule, through the post-colonial division of the island and its citizens into turbulent threads, to the present day of 1982, where the same tensions run strong as ever.  

Ostensibly a family novel, the story centers on Ma Taffy, her niece Gina, and Gina’s son Kaia, and it boils down to several key moments in their lives.  But these moments are brief in the overall bulk of the novel, the majority of which is devoted to the fleshing out of the world that permits – and, as we ultimately realize, requires – that such moments come to pass.  There is the miracle of the preacher Alexander Bedward, who, as seen through the eyes of Ma Taffy, could have literally floated up to the Heavens; the comically doomed marriage and foiled aspirations of schoolteacher Emanuel Saint-Josephs; the errand run by Soft-Paw, a young gang member; the second chance that comes before the well-to-do Claudia Garrick; the friendship of Clarky and Bongo Moody, and their run-ins with the police.  As Miller moves between these characters, the forces pushing Ma Taffy, Gina, and Kaia to their conclusion become clearer and harder to resist.
 

Despite the complexity of the novel’s structure, Miller easily weaves all of the component parts together.  The result is absorbing and affecting, a novel that is as much a family drama as it is an exploration of the legacy of colonialism, religion, class conflict, and violence.

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Torremolinos

Simpson, Helen

Last Updated: Sep-25-2017
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The exhausted narrator has just undergone 3 vessel coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. While grateful for surviving his "cabbage" operation, he is acutely aware how different he seems from his previous self. He gets a roommate sent from The Scrubs, a prison facility located next to the hospital, who has been jailed for grievous bodily harm with a sentence of 8 years. Now the prisoner is pretending to have a heart attack, hoping doctors will keep him for a few days for tests.

The two men exchange information and banter. The convict wants details about what it feels like to have a heart attack. The narrator wants to know what it's like to be in prison (The answer is "Boring."). They pass time imagining they are vacationing on a Mediterranean beach. The criminal has a knack for making his roomie laugh - a welcome, but painful sensation after open-heart surgery.

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How to Visit a Healer

Brown, Jeanette

Last Updated: Sep-08-2017
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In this wonderful short story, author Jeanette Brown describes a woman’s first visit to an alternative medicine healer. The woman has a persistent cough. Unhappy with the "five seconds per visit your doctor lavishes on you after your two-hour wait in his sterile lobby," she has taken her yoga instructor’s advice and made an appointment with a tall, olive-skinned man whose voice is "low and soothing" and whose manner is slow, relaxed, and personal.The woman, whom the healer diagnoses as "the roadrunner, a busy fidgety type," alternates between interest, skepticism and dismay. She cracks jokes; he doesn’t laugh. He recommends diet, exercise, no caffeine, and colon cleansing. She mentally rolls her eyes until, his hands massaging her foot, she feels her stomach lurch, a twinge in her armpit and begins to think of her body as "a human pinball machine." Whenever her self-defensive, rational, traditional beliefs almost propel her off the exam table and into her clothes, the healer "nails" her, reading her personality and her lifestyle exactly.Well into the visit, she realizes she hasn’t coughed once. Then, when she’s the most relaxed, incense wafting, his hands kneading all tensions from her back, her mind registering "this is bliss," her esophagus becomes blocked. Sitting up, she coughs, and the healer confronts her. "You have something to say," he insists, and she counters with "You expect me to believe all this mumbo-jumbo?" He tells her she swallows her feelings, and when she coughs again a "feather? A butterfly?" escapes from her mouth and disappears.When the healer pats her back and asks her to cough once more, she can’t. Taking her hands, he declares her "cured." At the story’s end, still not quite able to admit that this strange physician has helped her, yet knowing that he has, the woman struggles to count out his fifty dollar fee, finally dropping a handful of bills onto his bench, "hoping he won’t be offended by a tip."

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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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Emergency Room Notebook, 1977

Berlin, Lucia

Last Updated: Nov-28-2016
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator Lucia works in a California city emergency room. Her job title is not specified - possibly a registration clerk or triage nurse. She enjoys working in the ER and marvels at the human body: "I am fascinated by two fingers in a baggie, a glittering switchblade all the way out of a lean pimp's back" (p90). Death, however, is a regular visitor.

All day, ambulances back up to the emergency room, gurneys rumble by, and charts accumulate. The staff is too busy. Patients are restless, frightened, and angry. She notes how everything associated with the ER appears gray - patient's skin, blankets, emergency vehicles. And perhaps the prognosis of patients as well: "Everything is reparable, or not" (p90).

Lucia describes Code Blues, the deaths of gypsies, an encounter with a blind man whose wife was DOA, drunks, and suicide attempts. She wonders why the elderly fall down so frequently. She's frustrated by the large number of people who come to the ER without an actual emergency and longs for "a good cut-and-dried stabbing or a gunshot wound" (p93). But Lucia worries that she has become too desensitized working in the emergency room, maybe even inhuman. Yet the flow of patients doesn't slow down - those with true life-threatening conditions and those who probably don't need to be there.

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