Showing 111 - 120 of 366 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Strangers on a Train

Highsmith, Patricia

Last Updated: Feb-13-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Up-and-coming architect, Guy Haines, is traveling to Texas to obtain a divorce from Miriam, pregnant with another man’s child. He has nothing but contempt for her and cannot wait to begin a new life with more sophisticated and loving Anne. On the train, he meets slender, disturbing Charles Bruno, who hates his father. With a lot of booze Bruno goads Guy into confessing his hatred for Miriam. Bruno then proposes a double murder plot, where each would kill the other’s problem.  Appalled, Guy leaves, forgetting his book of Plato.

Not ten days later while vacationing with Anne’s family in Mexico, Guy learns from his anxious mother that Miriam has been murdered. Increasingly tormented that the unstable character on the train may have actually done it, Guy finds his life unraveling as Bruno mails evidence that he is Miriam’s killer, threatens to expose Guy as the instigator, and leaves anonymous letters for Anne. Guy’s work suffers. He drinks heavily and slowly sinks into a state where he realizes his only salvation is to kill Bruno’s father according to the precise plans that have repeatedly been sent. He does.

Guy’s career seems to pick up. But Bruno cannot leave him alone. He turns up uninvited at Guy’s wedding and insinuates himself menacingly into his married life. Guy is miserable, but plays along, aware that he has an impulse to defend Bruno as well as himself. He tells many lies and is wracked with guilt. Anne is worried and suspicious. The two men are bound by their secret, which encompasses a kind of animal attraction rooted in the sensation of having taken a life.

Things could continue indefinitely but for Gerard, the persistent but clever detective who worked for Guy’s father. Having known Bruno for years, he already suspects him of his father’s murder; then he finds Guy’s Plato. To say any more would spoil the gripping conclusion.

View full annotation

Assassination Vacation

Vowell, Sarah

Last Updated: Feb-12-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Obsessed with the history of presidential assassinations and captivated by the power of places and objects to evoke the past, the author writes about her travels to the sites commemorating the lives, illnesses, deaths, and burials of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and of their murderers. The greatest attention is given to Lincoln.

The context of the killings is presented in atmospheric detail and goes well beyond the individual deaths to the political tensions in which they occurred: slavery, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, partisan manipulation, economic strife. Special attention is given to wounds and body parts and to chattels, pus, and bits of bone.

The quirky research method of inveigling a sister and several long-suffering acquaintances (invariably introduced as “my friend XXX”) to drive the author to her desired destinations generates a counterpoint. Perhaps, the spiciest commentary on her investigations comes from the ever reliable insights of Owen, a four-year-old nephew.

This past is also about the physical objects--guns, tombs, statues, letters, plaques, buildings, furniture, and clothing--that memorialize and are fetishized by their contact with greatness. And it is about the people who care for it in the present--the curators, volunteers, collectors, and writers.

An encounter with the marvelous, stunningly beautiful (but now late) Gretchen Worden, curator of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, as she speculates on the future of her own corpse, will be a poignant surprise for those who knew her in person or through her many appearances on the Letterman Show (p. 93-99). As Vowell wrote in her acknowledgements (p. 258): “The world is a little less interesting without her in it.” Indeed.

The result is a highly readable set of interconnected chapters that blends extensive knowledge of American history with a fanatic’s zeal to get at the true story, sense, and emotions, especially those investing objects and places with what is called—"wie es eigenlicht gewesen [ist]"--as it really was.

View full annotation

Beat the Reaper

Bazell, Josh

Last Updated: Jan-26-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pietro Brnwa, nicknamed "The Bearclaw," has embraced change - a new name, a different occupation, and a regenerated outlook. Thanks to the Federal Witness Protection Program, Pietro, who was formerly employed as a hitman by a mafia-connected lawyer, is now Dr. Peter Brown, an intern in the Department of Internal Medicine at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. His career as an assassin was motivated by the desire to avenge the murder of the grandparents who raised him. As a physician, Dr. Brown is paying off a moral debt - doing good deeds to atone for previous acts of violence including killing people.

Unfortunately, life doesn't get any easier for the hit man-turned-physician. Trouble stalks him and finds him. Everyone he loves is lost. In addition to the death of his grandparents, Dr. Brown's girlfriend, Magdalene, is gunned down in a car. His former best friend, "Skinflick" is thrown out of a window of a six-story building, survives, and is later stabbed to death by Dr. Brown.

Life might have been easier if Dr. Brown had not been recognized by a mafia acquaintance named Nicholas LoBrutto who is a patient in Manhattan Catholic Hospital. LoBrutto has stomach cancer and threatens to squeal to Dr. Brown's former crime boss. If Dr. Brown cannot keep LoBrutto alive, the mafia will be notified where to find the physician and he will be eliminated. Dr. Brown assists during LoBrutto's surgery but the mobster experiences ventricular fibrillation postoperatively. Dr. Brown's two medical students mistakenly administer intravenous potassium and LoBrutto dies.

A group of thugs quickly infiltrate the hospital and it appears likely that Dr. Brown will be exterminated. He risks his life to prevent a young woman from having her leg amputated for an erroneous diagnosis. The thugs capture Dr. Brown and detain him in the blood bank freezer. He removes a piece of bone from his own lower leg (an autofibulectomy) to use as a weapon and proceeds to kill the entire gang of murderers. Dr. Brown is sure to be dismissed from Manhattan Catholic Hospital but realizes there is still much he hopes to accomplish as a physician. With some help from friends in the Witness Protection Program (and a likely sequel to this novel on the horizon), it's a good bet that Dr. Brown is not likely to retire his stethoscope (or firearms) anytime soon.

View full annotation

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.

View full annotation

The Book of Job

Author 2, Unknown

Last Updated: Nov-25-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

Job, a prosperous but god-fearing man, is stricken with a series of misfortunes, losing his goods, his sons, and his health all as a result of a wager between God and Satan about whether or not a "perfect and upright" man will remain thus under relentless misfortune (1:1). As he sits in ashes, covered with boils, a group of friends come to mourn with and comfort him, sitting beside him for seven days and nights in complete silence "for they saw that his grief was great" (3:13).

Job proves a good bet by never following his wife's advice to "curse God and die," but he does deliver a series of lamentations and questions about his condition, countering his friends' theories about the possible causes (unacknowledged sin, primarily) for his troubles and finally asserting his desire to speak directly to God and ask Him the reason that a good man has been burdened with a host of sorrows (2:9). Job's friends, including a fourth speaker, Elihu, who was probably added into the text by a later writer, reprove him angrily.

God appears suddenly and speaks to Job from within a whirlwind, ending Job's complaints with his chastening response. Rather than offering a rationale for Job's suffering, God reminds him of the limitations of a human perspective. Ultimately God rewards Job and reprimands Job's friends.

View full annotation

Tree of Hope

Kahlo, Frida

Last Updated: Nov-12-2008
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Summary:

This self-portrait includes two images of the artist. The first lies with her back toward us on a hospital gurney, her head to the left, apparently anesthetized. She is wrapped in a white sheet except for her lower back, which is exposed to show two large surgical cuts dripping blood. The second figure sits facing us in a chair in front of the right side of the gurney.

The sitting figure is essentially the familiar Frida Kahlo of many self-portraits--erect, beautifully dressed in colorful Mexican style, and her face composed in spite of the tear on her right cheek. The difference here is the presence of medical paraphernalia. The upright Kahlo holds in her lap a large back brace, and she seems to be simultaneously wearing the same device under her dress. In her right hand she holds a small flag with a Spanish inscription that could be translated: "Tree of hope, stay firm."

The two figures float in space just above a lifeless and deeply eroded desert landscape. In front of them, at the very bottom of the painting, is the suggestion of an abyss. The painting is divided laterally, the left side ruled over by a sun and the darker right side (the figure’s left) ruled by the moon.

View full annotation

Henry Ford Hospital

Kahlo, Frida

Last Updated: Nov-12-2008
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on sheet metal

Summary:

In this disturbing work Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed frame bears the inscription "Henry Ford Hospital Detroit," but the bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage, all tied to blood-red filaments the figure holds in her left hand. The main image is a perfectly-formed male fetus. The others refer to aspects of childbearing.

View full annotation

The Cure for Grief

Hermann, Nellie

Last Updated: Sep-22-2008
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The voice of a young girl leads us through this spare and tautly told story of a closely-knit family upon whom tragedy falls like a plague.  Before death and mental illness take up residence there, we meet the Bronstein’s, two parents and four children, in their comfortable, well-run home outside of Boston.  Hermann delicately renders the portents of change and pain that haunt all loving families. The novel opens with the nine year-old Ruby Bronstein’s discovering, while walking along the beach with her three older brothers on a winter afternoon, an old rusty pistol poking out of the sand. 

The family story deepens as the teenage Ruby recounts a sojourn with her parents to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp where her father was interned as a child. Hermann’s restraint and precision in this sequence make this potentially familiar journey entirely new.  With her young eye trained on her father’s every muscle-twinge of reaction to what he sees, she crisply conveys the unknowability of even an adored father –let alone the events that took place within these walls. Her father’s inaccessible childhood memories are not miraculously jarred by this return to the scene of trauma – but he learns shortly thereafter of a brain tumor that soon will end his life.

One tragedy follows another, the emergence of mental illness in one brother, the death of another.  The narrative traces Ruby’s efforts to carry on in the face of these devastating losses.  Here is where the novel explodes in cold fire, in its quiet accounting of a young person’s grief as it is lived in its ordinary, daily course.  Loss begins to deform her social life, giving her the feeling that she is a freak.  The scale of things is too disproportionate; she dresses for the prom while her brother lies dying in the intensive care unit.  Carrying the stigma of disaster, she hides news of family developments for which she has no vocabulary.  What good would talking do anyhow, she asks –until she finds the listener she needs.  

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Sculpture

Summary:

Great Deeds Against the Dead is a mixed media rendering of Plate 39 of Goya's Disaster of War series. In Goya's original etching, three figures are strung up on a tree trunk, murdered and mutilated; the Chapmans use mannequins, wigs, and fake blood to create a lifesize sculpture.

View full annotation

Summary:

A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

View full annotation