Showing 1011 - 1020 of 1212 Fiction annotations
Stella is the wife of Max Raphael, the deputy superintendent of a maximum security psychiatric hospital near London (based perhaps on Broadmoor, where the author's father was medical superintendent), and mother of a ten-year-old son. She becomes involved in an obsessive sexual affair with one of the institution's patients, Edgar Stark, a schizophrenic sculptor institutionalized after murdering and decapitating his wife.
Stark uses his affair with Stella to escape, and she runs away to London to join him. After a few passionate but squalid weeks in hiding, Edgar's illness resurfaces, evinced both in the violence he shows to a sculpture he's making of Stella's head, and in his paranoid jealousy. She runs away from him and is captured by the police and returned her to her husband, who has been fired because of his wife's role in the escape of so dangerous an inmate.
The family moves to a remote hospital in North Wales, where Max has a minor position, and Stella becomes severely depressed, to the extent that she stands by helplessly as her son dies in an accidental drowning. As a result, she is institutionalized--she returns to the hospital, not as the superintendent's wife, but as a patient. Edgar has meanwhile been recaptured (in North Wales, seeking out Stella either to take her with him or to kill her), but they never meet again, for Stella commits suicide.
The narrator of this long, lyrical musing is a psychiatrist who works with autistic children. Though much of the narrative is a reflection on her mid-life relationship with a journalist lover who risks death to report on places in political turmoil, her observations about her patients provide a recurrent motif and reference point.
Several long passages detail the fascination and frustration involved in working with her young patients, what she has learned from them about limits, patience, and the semiotics of autism. She also reflects on how that learning has allowed her to understand "normal" people differently. One of the subtle but strong themes of the story is the question of what "normal" means.
A secondary focus is her close attachment to her two grown sons. This is developed through memories of particular scenes of their childhood that she identifies as bonding moments. Another focus is her relationship with her mother, now dwindling into mental incompetence and squalor in her old age. Thinking about these relationships, with lover, sons, mother and patients, is a way of taking stock of how the strands of her life have brought her to a place of qualified peace in mid-life.
Another portrayal of growing up poor, female, and Southern, Cavedweller is the story of Delia Byrd's return to Cayro, Georgia, after leaving behind her life in a now defunct but legendary band and a newly dead husband. After packing up her aging Datsun with everything she owned and her ten-year-old daughter Cissy, Delia heads toward Cayro with a vengeance to stay sober and reclaim the two daughters she left behind ten years ago when she fled from their father and abusive husband.
The change in lifestyle was profound, from a glitzy life on the road, credit cards that bought anything whether you could pay for it or not, and around-the-clock drinking, to the life of a hairdresser in Cayro. If Cissy's rage weren't enough to live with, Delia finds that her teenage daughters Amanda and Dede do not forgive and her hometown does not forget how she abandoned her children ten years earlier. The story that unfolds is Delia's painful reunion with her dying ex-husband, her conflicted relationship with her daughters, the company and friendship of women who sustained her and her children, and her search for peace and meaning in her childhood home.
A family's tragic event--the death of two teenage boys in a car accident--is both the stimulus for a mother's abandonment of her husband and daughter and an ongoing thread weaving its way throughout the rest of this immense story (537 pages) told in three major parts.
Part 1 (1958) is the story of Marion and Ted Cole and their four-year-old daughter Ruth. Struggling to keep afloat in her grief-filled life, Marion is a beautiful, 39-year-old woman who, with her husband Ted, a hugely successful children's author/illustrator, lives an elegant life on Long Island. The focus of Part 1 is Marion's affair with Eddie, a 17-year-old hired by Ted to be his personal assistant but who turns out to be part babysitter to Ruth, and "companion" to Marion. This part of the story is sexy and comic, even as it is full of relentless grief.
Part 2 (1990) finds Ruth as a hugely successful novelist in her thirties. Her life is one long unending string of "bad" boyfriends, and one long question regarding how her mother could abandon her and why she fails to reappear. While in Amsterdam on a book tour, she comes up with the idea for a new book that takes her to the storefront prostitution district of the city, where her authorial curiosity and adventure is met with violence. In this section of the book she marries her agent, has a baby, and seems to be finding contentment for the first time in her life.
Part 3 (1995) occurs four years later, when Ruth as a 41-year-old widow and mother, falls in love. The story comes together finally with the reappearance of Marion Cole, now in her seventies and herself a moderately successful author who had been living quietly alone in Canada.
Blind dolls' dressmaker Bertha Plummer is the center of a significant subplot to this story of marriage and deception. Bertha and her toymaker father, Caleb, live in squalor in a "little cracked nutshell" house and work for hardhearted Tackleton. Caleb has convinced Bertha that their cottage and their employer are both charming. She falls in love with Tackleton and is traumatized by his engagement to another.
Caleb's confession of his well-meaning deceit compounds her suffering. Bertha's literal blindness parallels the figurative blindness in the main plot, in which Dot Peerybingle's innocent secrets make her husband John suspect she loves another. The story ends in reconciliation and happiness all around; Bertha plays the harp while the others dance.
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg, a dwarf. Born to a mentally disturbed woman who dies when Trudi is a small child, the girl reaches adulthood under the loving care of her father, a pay-librarian in a small German town. (A pay-librarian is one who runs a library as a business and charges the patrons to borrow books.) Trudi is angry, deeply resentful of her "differentness," and she uses her unique status in a variety of ways, both helpful and vengeful toward others.
For example, Trudi tells stories, some of which enchant and comfort frightened children during the war, others of which harm the lives and personal security of the townsfolk whom the story teller doesn't like. World War II comes and goes in Burgdorf; Trudi finds and loses romantic love; her father dies; and she begins, at the end of the tale, to reflect on the ways in which she has contributed to her own suffering and that of others.
Lainey's husband, Jay, has been in a coma for weeks, now extending into months. She takes care of their daughters, visits him daily, finds what solace is possible with her resilient, tough-minded, and compassionate neighbor, Alice, and continues to believe he will wake up when the medical staff have largely given up hope.
As she sits with him, trying to adjust and foster her hopes, bringing familiar smells, textures, and sounds from home in the hope of triggering response, she imagines his state of mind. Interludes that work a little like prose poems suggest something of the liminal state he may inhabit. Lainey meets a fellow visitor at the nursing home whose wife dies after having been comatose for 6 months.
Lainey's life is kept from complete inward focus by Alice's efforts to keep her going out, and by Alice's own problems which include a straying husband who finally reveals that he's been struggling with homosexuality and has fallen in love with another man. Jay finally awakens and life returns to something like normal, but with an abiding awareness of the mystery of consciousness and memory, and a heightened sense of the preciousness of consciousness, choice, and the ordinariness of daily life.
This novel chronicles the long journey home of a Civil War soldier, Inman, to Cold Mountain in North Carolina. The story begins in a military hospital, and Inman's neck wound, a long difficult-to-heal horizontal slice received in battle, is drawing flies. Inman is a moral man, and the brutality and killing he has witnessed on the battlefield lead him to leave the hospital AWOL and journey secretively, by foot, back to Ada, his love.
The trip is perilous; Inman is subject not only to the difficulties of near starvation and a poorly healing wound, but also the cruelties of people he meets along the way. However, every so often, he is also succored by compassionate people, such as the goat woman who provides the cure for his neck wound, if not for the wounds inside. Intertwined with Inman's story is Ada's: her preacher father dies of tuberculosis, leaving her utterly unable to provide for her own basic needs on the farm. Fortunately, a self-reliant young woman, Ruby, joins Ada on the farm, and helps transform both the farm and Ada.
The book details the ways of nourishment: physical (precise descriptions of food, its paucity and preparation) and nonphysical (themes of love, generosity, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual questing underpin the book). Cold Mountain itself provides both types of nourishment by offering hope, goals, shelter, food and a place where love and forgiveness are possible despite the savagery of man.
Black and Blue is a novel portraying the new life of Beth Crenshaw, formerly Fran Benedetto, after her escape with her son Robert from a passionate marriage that had turned into an abusive nightmare. It chronicles how she left, why she stayed, and what she gave up--materially, professionally, emotionally--in her attempt to find a safe new life.
The book, written in the first person, includes many flashbacks as she chronicles the early signs of her husband Bobby’s rage that turned on her, her successful attempts at denial, the years of hiding her secret, her attempts at protecting her son from the knowledge of his father’s malevolence, and the final destructive act that gave her the courage to leave. Winding her way from New York to Florida, covering her tracks, helped by an underground network of women committed to saving battered women’s lives, Beth attempts to start over, always with the background noise of her history and ubiquitous fear of her husband’s appearance.
He does, of course, eventually show up at her home--Robert misses his father and phones him--and after beating her one last time, takes Robert with him. At the story’s end, we find Beth in a new marriage with a new daughter Grace, but her life is forever marred: "There’s not a day when I haven’t wondered whether I did the right thing, leaving Bobby. But of course if I hadn’t, there would have been no . . . Grace Ann. Your children make it impossible to regret your past. They’re its finest fruits. Sometimes its only ones."
When we first meet Gary Madden he's face down on a hospital bed rigged to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores. His head is in a brace and he can move neither arms nor legs. He was carried off the football field the previous week with a spinal cord injury and doesn't yet know what his prospects are for recovery. Eventually he learns that he has some hope of recovering at least partial use of arms and upper body, but virtually no hope of walking again.
His parents, a faithful teacher, a bewildered girlfriend, and a few awkward but good-hearted teammates find their various ways to see him through months of adjustment, some of them more helpful than others. They all have something to learn in the course of caregiving: his mother has to struggle not to be overprotective; his girlfriend has to find new ways to interpret his moods and her own as they try to imagine what future their relationship could possibly have; his closest friends know little about the nuances of sickroom diplomacy, which makes sometimes for comedy, sometimes for unintended pain.
His English teacher who has recently lost her husband in a car accident, turns out to be a significant mentor in transition as she forces herself to reach beyond her own loss to help him in his. One form her help takes is to open his imagination to other ways of living, through literature and poetry, and to a metaphor for how to live that might work better than "winning."