Showing 11 - 20 of 29 annotations in the genre "Novella"
Tolstoy’s short novel is more than a classic portrayal of dying and suffering. While those issues are central in most discussions of this work, an equally important and overlapping theme concerns choices made in life. Ivan, the protagonist, followed a well-traveled road, adhering to "comme il faut" (as is expected) or doing what one was supposed to do in career matters, selection of clothes, choosing a wife, raising children.
There is little to admire about this generally successful but thoughtless and selfish man. Ivan’s inability to invest meaningfully in family, social, or professional relationships leads to frightening consequences when he becomes gravely ill, probably with pancreatic cancer. Five different physicians with attitudes that range from arrogant to dishonest offer little assistance or compassion.
His family soon loses patience with his suffering and tends to blame him for the onset of illness. Only Gerasim, a peasant hired to assist him in his most basic needs, provides the kind of care and understanding required by the dying and increasingly isolated or deserted sufferer. The first chapter is masterful in its presentation of responses to death by friends and family members and prepares readers for the consequences of shallowness in an unlived life.
The story consists of a series of Dr. Mark Goddard's dictated office notes regarding the care of his patient Gregry McHune, interspersed with the narrator's description of these physician-patient interactions. McHune first presents as a standard case of high blood pressure; however, in subsequent visits the man tells his harrowing story.
Goddard learns that his patient was unjustly jailed for killing a black man in self-defense. McHune tells him about racism in the penitentiary and his fight for survival, both in prison and later. Eventually McHune and his family are hounded out of town by the son of the man he killed.
Through all these losses, McHune maintains his sense of humor and easy-going integrity. Meanwhile, the elderly Dr. Goddard is repeatedly harrangued by the clinic administrator (a vacuous young man) for including extraneous details and poetic language in his dictations. As time goes on, and he is transformed by his relationship with McHune, Goddard includes more and more poetry in his office notes.
Richard Koslowski, a 32-year-old computer systems supervisor and musician, breaks a tooth when he bites an olive pit. Although the remnant of the damaged tooth is removed during his initial visit to the dentist, Koslowski embarks on a peculiar quest. He longs to find a perfect-fitting dental bridge, to eliminate a mysterious oral pain, and to measure up to the suffering his parents have endured as survivors of concentration camps.
He eventually elicits opinions or treatment from ten different dentists and specialists. Koslowski realizes that he has sustained more than just a cracked tooth. His entire life is now fractured. Koslowski becomes obsessed with his teeth. His girlfriend, Lisa, is a law student who is passionate about women's rights. She travels to Bosnia to interview and assist rape victims. When Lisa returns, she breaks up with Koslowski. His suffering seems so small and his life so insignificant that she can no longer tolerate him.
Koslowski's father is dying of a brain tumor but remains stoic until the end. Koslowski, on the other hand, has a poor pain tolerance. After undergoing multiple dental procedures--tooth extraction, root canals, a series of gum cleanings every week, and finally dental implants--Koslowski ultimately resigns himself to living with the discomfort in his mouth. His "reward" is marriage to a disabled woman, three children, and an ordinary life filled with minor ailments and nuisances.
Summary:Through his own studies and brilliance, a peasant servant of two students becomes an educated man. Persuaded by an army recruiter of the soldier's good life, he travels Europe before returning to his studies and becoming a licensed graduate of the law. An enamored woman inadvertently poisons him with a presumed love potion, leaving him crazy, believing he is made of glass. The Glass Graduate gains fame and fortune for his wit and wisdom, despite (because of) his folly. Cured by a cleric, his former large following rejects the now sane professional. He returns to the good life of soldiering.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a delightful experimental novella, a fictional exploration of dimensions and perspectives beginning in a two-dimensional world, Flatland, populated by two-dimensional geometrical shapes. The novella is narrated by one of Flatland's residents, A. Square (when the novella was first published in 1884, it was published under the pseudonym, "A. Square").
The first half of the novella is a description of this two-dimensional world, such as how it looks and how the figures move, spiced up with a clever dissection of Flatland's social hierarchy, which is dictated by the number of sides one has. Square's subsequent explorations lead him to Lineland (a one-dimensional world), Pointland (no dimensions), and then to Spaceland with its three dimensions.
Gilbert Adair has a flair for French settings in the latter half of the twentieth century (The Holy Innocents, Key of the Tower) and this novella is no exception. Gideon, the narrator, has moved to Paris in the early 1980's in order to teach English at the Berlitz school. Although he detests 'dreary' London and has only a distant relationship with his parents ["The only thing we had in common was our kinship. Did we even have that?" (2)], the reason he gives for his move is obliquely described in a lengthy discussion of his unhappy, unfulfilling, often humiliating sex life.
Once in Paris and at work, he befriends a group of fellow teachers at the school. After languid hours gossiping in the staff room and teaching their students, they make variably energetic attempts to live interestingly bohemian and erotic Parisian lives, before and during the first intimations of AIDS. The narrator then describes how AIDS affects his friends and his own life.
This novella is narrated by Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a man who previously worked in numerical codes at a large computer company before essentially becoming a recluse in his own apartment due to his increasingly debilitating rituals, routines, and anxieties. His more incapacitating obsessions and compulsions include the maintenance of 1125 wattage of lights shining in his apartment at any one time and the inability to cross over curbs. This latter obsession requires of him that he crosses the street at "dugout" car driveways and that even regular trips to the Rite-Aid drugstore for medications and groceries result in "figure-8" routes.
He is clearly socially inept, with helpless fantasies about his pharmacist, Zandy, and the real-estate agent, Elizabeth, who is trying to lease the apartments across the street. Nevertheless, his upstairs neighbors, Phillipa and Brian, become his friends almost against his will, and his weekly visits with a training "shrink," Clarrisa, turn into a less professional and more personal relationship. It is this latter relationship with Clarissa and her son Teddy that develops into a moving portrait of friendship and longing.
Felix Krull begins his "confessions" at the beginning, with his family background and infancy. He comes from an upper class family in the Rhine Valley; his father owned a small manufacturing concern; he has an older sister named Olympia. Felix writes about his childhood love of fantasy, as exemplified by his love of dressing-up in costumes at home and his passion for the theater. He detested school, however, because it was so unremittingly boring.
Felix first practiced the art of deception by forging his father's penmanship on notes excusing him from school because of sickness. Later, he graduated to "performing" the illness by being able to fool his mother with imaginary symptoms. In fact, he was so good at "performing" that he was actually able to create the symptoms in himself (e.g. nausea and vomiting), and in so doing, "I had improved upon nature, realized a dream . . . " When the doctor arrived to examine Felix, the doctor initially assumed that it was a phony case (just being "school-sick"), but Felix was able to convince the doctor as well, or at least force enough doubt that he went along with the ruse.
Among the adolescent episodes that Felix confesses is his first theft (of chocolates from a sweet shop) and his first sexual experience (with a much older housemaid). He cites the latter event in the context of explaining how his "great joy" over sensual experience is so much greater than that of the common person.
Felix Krull's confessions end with the family's bankruptcy and loss of their sparkling wine factory, and his father's suicide some months later: "I stood beside the earthly husk of my progenitor, now growing cold, with my hand over my eyes, and paid him the abundant tribute of my tears."
Alexei Laptev, the middle-aged son of a wealthy Moscow industrialist, is on a prolonged visit to a provincial town where he is helping to care for his sister Nina, who is recovering from a cancer operation. Nina’s husband has abandoned her and their two young daughters for another woman. Unexpectedly, Laptev falls in love with Yulia Sergeyevna, the doctor’s 22-year-old daughter. Laptev is an unattractive, but good-hearted man; Yulia, though beautiful, is bland and immature. She eventually accepts his offer of marriage, though she is somewhat repulsed by him as a person. Yulia is neither attracted by his money, nor by his social position; she just feels badly about disappointing him and, moreover, looks forward to living in Moscow, where life is more exciting.
Once married, both Yulia and Alexei suffer. She hates his family and friends, and feels no affection for him. Meanwhile, Alexei remains head over heels in love with her. Nina dies of her cancer, and the little girls come to live with them for a while. Eventually, Yulia finds her own group of friends, who consider her foolish for not taking on a lover. Yulia and Alexei have a baby, who becomes the center of Yulia’s life, until the child dies of diphtheria.
Time passes. The family business turns sour. Alexei’s bother Fyodor goes mad and has to be put into an asylum. And in the last scene, Yulia greets her depressed husband with tenderness: "You are precious to me. Here you’ve come. I see you, and I’m so happy I can’t tell you. Well, let’s talk." (p. 328)
Orlov is a young playboy in St. Petersburg whose father is an important political figure. The narrator (the "anonymous man"), who is actually a political activist (perhaps even an anarchist), assumes a new fake identity and takes a job as Orlov's footman, in order to get inside information to use against his father. While working undercover in this way, the narrator ("Stefan") observes a domestic tragedy. Orlov charms and then seduces a beautiful young married woman, Zinaida Fyodorovna Krasnovsky, who subsequently leaves her husband, shows up on Orlov's doorstep, and moves in with him.
Zinaida bursts with romantic visions and loves Orlov passionately. However, Orlov thinks the whole thing is a bore. He can't bring himself to throw her out, yet he detests her assault on his freedom. Eventually, he begins spending weeks at a time away from the flat, supposedly on an inspection tour in the provinces, but he is simply avoiding Zinaida by staying at a friend's house in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, "Stefan" experiences a growing compassion for the poor woman, who has given up her husband and family for love.
As a result of this situation, "Stefan's" political ideals sink into the background; for example, he gives up an opportunity to murder Orlov's father and, thereby, achieve his radical objectives. Eventually, he confesses the truth to Zinaida--that Orlov has deceived her and doesn't want her. "Stefan" also reveals his true identity (Vladimir Ivanitich) and entices her to flee with him to Europe.
They spend the next several months traveling together. At one point Vladimir has an acute exacerbation of "pleurisy" (actually tuberculosis) and, while nursing him back to health, Zinaida realizes that Vladimir is in love with her. This is a crushing blow to their relationship, because she was under the impression that he had been helping her for purely altruistic, idealistic reasons.
Meanwhile, Zinaida, who is ill herself and pregnant with Orlov's child, dies in childbirth. The baby (Sonya) survives, and Vladimir spends two happy years caring for her, until he, too, is about to die of tuberculosis. At the end of the story, Vladimir meets with Orlov, and they make arrangements for old Krasnovsky--Remember him? He was Zinaida's husband--to take the child and raise her as his own.