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Subtitled Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine, this book draws on novels by eleven women to illustrate how physical and emotional states of health and illness are linked directly to social justice. The book is divided into two parts. The first five chapters deal with individual characters, their illnesses, and sometimes their healing: Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Louise Erdrich's Tracks, and Sapphire's Push are among the works Stanford uses to examine women who have become ill because of broken ties to their histories and communities, because of racial hatred, or because of domestic and sexual violence (see this database for annotations).
The second part of the book finds novels examining medicine itself. Stanford uses Ana Castillo's So Far from God, Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (annotated in this database), Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead: A Novel (annotated in this database), and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents again to raise connections between patients and social conditions but also to ask questions about bioethics and uncertainty, medicine and epistemology, and how medicine might resist dehumanizing trends through the "myriad possibilities of communitas" (218).
Untouchable. Paul Bannerman considers himself a modern day leper. Diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid at the age of 35, the white ecologist in South Africa undergoes surgery to remove the malignant thyroid gland. Four week later, he is treated with radioactive iodine to obliterate any residual cancerous cells. Paul will remain radioactive for 16 days and poses a risk to anyone in contact with him. He must be quarantined. His parents, Adrian and Lyndsay, offer to care for him in their home so that Paul will not expose his wife, Berenice (Benni), and 3-year-old son, Nickie to potentially harmful radioactivity. While at his parent’s house, Paul is isolated. Nothing of Paul’s is allowed to mingle with that of others. He spends considerable time in the garden reflecting on his life.
As Paul recovers, his parent’s marriage unravels. His mother has had a previous affair. Now his father has a fling of his own (with the tour guide) during a trip to Mexico. His dad never returns home and dies of heart failure in Norway. Paul’s mother adopts an HIV-positive 3-year-old black girl.
Benni wants to have another child, but Paul is worried. Are his radioactive sperm still capable of fertilization, and if so, will the child be somehow deformed or mutilated? Eventually conception occurs, and the baby is healthy. Paul’s most recent scan shows no signs of recurrent cancer. On the professional front, Paul gets additional good news. The environmental and conservation organization he works for has been successful in opposing and temporarily halting a mining project in the sand dunes and the development of a pebble-bed nuclear reactor. Lately, most things associated with Paul are starting to glow.
Lara Ardeche, a glamorous sixteen-year-old, is elected homecoming queen at her Nashville high school, as her mother was years before. She works out daily on gym equipment supplied by her wealthy grandfather. She thinks her family is perfect: her mother and father are youthful and attractive, her younger brother is cute and smart, and she is popular, beautiful, and her father's "princess." Her best friend, Molly, is one of the few offbeat characters in her life; other friends call Molly "the Mouth." Molly is frank, funny, a little fat, and indifferent to the unsubtle slurs of the in-crowd.
Weeks after homecoming, Lara, who has never had a weight problem, begins to gain weight rapidly and inexplicably. Within months her weight soars to 200+ pounds. She is diagnosed with a rare "Axell-Crowne" syndrome, a severe metabolic disorder with no sure cure. Most of her friends abandon her, though Molly stays faithful and Jett, Lara's boyfriend, tries to maintain a relationship.
The family begins to fall apart. The father, it turns out, has been having an affair. They move to Michigan to get a "new start." But the affair continues, kids at the new high school are cruel, and Lara is miserable until she is introduced to a new, motley group of people through her piano teacher who shares her love of music and is about her size.
In a cross-generational, racially mixed jazz club she begins to think differently about who she is and on what basis real relationships survive. By the time her weight begins slowly to fall, she has come to terms with herself and the dysfunctions in her family in a whole new way, and at great cost. She still hopes to be thin again, but not because she any longer kids herself that a fashionably thin body is a key to happiness.
Dr. Sunit "Sonny" Seth is a gifted but troubled (emotionally and spiritually) third year resident who works at a New York hospital that treats and employs many immigrants from India. The sleep-walking Sonny is assigned to care for a prominent Indian politician known as the Transplanted Man, a patient who has already received seven organ transplants and is currently in renal failure.
Sonny mysteriously rescues the Transplanted Man from the brink of death following a kidney transplant but later learns his patient died from a cardiac arrest. Although Sonny is no stranger to personal loss and longing, the death of this special patient serves as a catalyst. He breaks up with his girlfriend, quits his residency, and dreams of relocating to Trinidad. Meanwhile, nearly everyone else Sonny knows seems to be struggling with their role and place in the world as well.
A stray dog bites the left ankle of 12-year-old Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles. She and her peculiar parents live in a country near the Caribbean Sea during colonial times. Her father belongs to the class of decaying nobility. He is a weak man with poor judgment. Her scheming mother is a nymphomaniac who abuses cacao tablets and fermented honey. Sierva Maria is more or less raised by the family's slaves whose culture she assimilates. The youngster has luxuriant copper-colored hair and a penchant for lying--"she wouldn't tell the truth even by mistake" according to her mother. (p. 16)
Before long, the dog dies of rabies. When Sierva Maria begins exhibiting bizarre behavior, no one is quite sure of the cause even though everyone seems to have his or her own theory. Is the girl displaying signs of rabies? Is she possessed by a demon? The physician Abrenuncio doubts either diagnosis. The powerful Bishop believes the girl may require an exorcism. Perhaps Sierva Maria is simply eccentric or maybe even crazy. Ninety-three days after being bitten by the dog, she is locked in a cell in the Convent of Santa Clara.
The Bishop appoints his protégé, 36-year-old Father Cayetano Delaura, to investigate the matter. The priest is immediately infatuated with the girl. When the Bishop learns of Cayetano Delaura's love for Sierva Maria and his unacceptable actions, the priest is disciplined and then relegated to caring for lepers at the hospital. The Bishop next takes matters into his own hands by performing the rite of exorcism on Sierva Maria. After five sessions, she is found in bed "dead of love." (p. 147)
Written in a style resembling religious litany, this is the tale of a disastrous teen-age marriage and its criminal consequences. The setting is California. Maria is a poor Mexican-American who meets and attracts Russell, a working class Anglo. Although ambivalent, Maria sees marriage to Russell as the path to American, white respectability. Her earlier hopes of achieving this status through her own efforts have been frustrated by the reality of poor academic performance. She is eager to get away from the household of her deeply religious mother. Russell is brooding, taciturn, and carries the physical and psychic wounds of an abused childhood--his father is a partially reformed alcoholic who deliberately burned Russell's hand.
The pair are ill-equipped for marriage or parenthood and Maria soon feels trapped. Their son, John, avoids provoking them by being a "good boy," hoping to prevent their frequent arguments. Russell's deprived childhood accounts, perhaps, for his obsessively jealous fixation on Maria. He is jealous even of the attention she gives their son.
The catastrophe that seems always close at hand finally occurs: Russell sets fire to his own child. The second part of the novel is told primarily from John's perspective as he undergoes a prolonged, painful rehabilitation and tries to find meaning in these events. It is also the story of the plastic surgeon who attempts to restore John's horribly scarred body and who has come to doubt the purpose of his profession (there is nothing he can do about destructive family relationships and psychic scars). Russell, who has been brutalized in jail, is released, seeking redemption. Fire, significant throughout the story, plays a final shocking (redemptive?) role.
Art Woo, thirty-eight years old, Asian-American, and a salesman in a dying industry, finds himself housed in a welfare hotel during a sales convention--the unexpected result of trying to limit travel expenses for his company. His modus operandi is to "maintain a certain perspective," so he attempts to make the best of the situation.
We learn that his wife, Lisa, has divorced him--the outcome of Art's inability to grieve along with her when, after many months of fertility treatments and two miscarriages, Lisa's successful pregnancy was medically terminated at four and a half months because the fetus was afflicted with a severe genetic abnormality. Whereas Art reacted with hope for having another child, Lisa had seen only loss. Likewise, when his boss had insulted Art with a racial slur, Art had maintained "perspective," while Lisa thought he should have quit his job.
The "birthmate" of the title is Billy Shore, four years younger, American, and a business rival. Billy is obnoxious, but has advanced to a new job. Art thinks that if Billy can get ahead, so can he. But Art's equilibrium is ultimately destroyed by an experience in the welfare hotel. He realizes that he has lost not just a job opportunity and his wife, but also his child.
Fraser’s subtitle is accurate; this book tells about a middle-aged woman rediscovering her difficult past of incest from her father and abuse, as a child, from another man. She tells her life story of growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, going to university, marrying, and becoming a journalist. All the while, anger and rage fuel her, but it is only after surgery (for fibroids) and psychotherapy that she can recall the abuse and has it corroborated by others. Fraser understands that her personality split into three personae; she uses her dreams, her writing (including six novels), and her childhood drawings to understand what happened to her. Finally she is able to forgive her father (although after his death) and continue with her successful career as a writer.
Southern Baptist missionary Nathan Price brings his wife Orleanna and his four young daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959, just before its turbulent passage into independence as the state of Zaire. The Prices’ stay in the tiny village of Kilanga occasions escalating conflicts of cultures and values. The differences between the social, religious, and political habits of the United States and Africa are a source of both wonder and strife.
Orleanna and most of her daughters develop bonds with the people of Kilanga whose dimensions are much deeper than they first realize. At the same time, the family finds itself increasingly at odds with each other. All the women are engaged in a passage to personal identity and independence from Nathan: Orleanna, the dutiful minister’s wife; materialistic teenager Rachel; fervent, idealistic Leah, who emulates her father until it’s impossible to continue; her brilliant twin sister Adah, who walks with a limp and perceives the world in palindromes; and adventurous five-year-old Ruth May.
While all the women are changed by Africa, Nathan becomes more and more zealous in his refusal to change. The novel draws Nathan as a man whose identity has been definitively shaped by a World War II trauma that launches him on a downward psychological spiral from which there is no exit.
The novel is broken into seven books, all but the seventh bearing the titles and epigraphs from books of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. Within the sections, the story is told as a round robin, with the Price women contributing alternating first-person narrative.
The daughters’ stories begin in 1959 in Africa and record events as they happen, gradually working their way forward to the 1990s. Their mother, in contrast, tells her story retrospectively, writing from Sanderling Island, Georgia, long after her return from Africa. Nathan is the only family member who never narrates.
As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.
Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.
Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.
As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.