Showing 1111 - 1120 of 1213 Fiction annotations

The Black Swan

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Feb-03-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

The setting is Germany in the late 1920s. Rosalie, the central character, is a "sociable," cheerful 50 year old widow who lives with her adult unmarried daughter and her adolescent son. Her manner is youthful but "her health had been affected by certain critical organic phenomena of her time of life." Rosalie is keenly aware of all that menopause implies: the loss of sexual allure and of a (biologic) purpose in life. She feels "superannuated."

Along comes a young man, well-built, who is the American-born tutor for her son. She is overwhelmed by physical attraction for him, becoming infatuated, much to the disapproval of her repressed, cerebral daughter. She feels young and attractive once more, believing that her heightened state of sensuality has resulted in the resumption of what appears to be menstrual bleeding.

Planning to declare her love to the tutor, Rosalie arranges a family excursion to the Rhine castle where the black swans swim. In the decaying alcoves of the castle, she does so; the pair will rendezvous that night. The rendezvous never takes place; Rosalie has hemorrhaged. She is found to have a large, metastatic uterine tumor.

View full annotation

Little Things

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with an angry quarrel as a man prepares to walk out on his woman. Their hatred for each other manifests itself as a physical struggle over their baby, with each parent pulling on an arm until the baby is apparently severely injured/dead.

View full annotation

The Embroidered Towel

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A young doctor, just graduated, arrives at the country hospital to which he is assigned. He is fraught with anxiety because of his inexperience, especially when he meets the seasoned feldsher and midwives, who sing the praises of his predecessor. During the night his first patient arrives: a girl who was caught in a brake (a machine for threshing flax) and is now mangled and near death. No one expects her to live. The feldsher whispers, “She'll die now.” Yet the doctor feels compelled to try to save her, despite his ignorance. He amputates a leg, he continues treatment, the girl hangs on. Eventually she recovers. The new doctor has established his reputation in the district.

View full annotation

Arrowsmith

Lewis, Sinclair

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel was inspirational for several generations of pre-medical and medical students. It follows the hero, Martin Arrowsmith, from his days as a medical student through the vicissitudes of his medical/scientific career. There is much agonizing along the way concerning career and life decisions. While detailing Martin’s pursuit of the noble ideals of medical research for the benefit of mankind and of selfless devotion to the care of patients, Lewis throws many less noble temptations and self-deceptions in Martin’s path. The attractions of financial security, recognition, even wealth and power distract Arrowsmith from his original plan to follow in the footsteps of his first mentor, Max Gottlieb, a brilliant but abrasive bacteriologist.

In the course of the novel Lewis describes many aspects of medical training, medical practice, scientific research, scientific fraud, medical ethics, public health, and of personal/professional conflicts that are still relevant today. Professional jealousy, institutional pressures, greed, stupidity, and negligence are all satirically depicted, and Martin himself is exasperatingly self-involved. But there is also tireless dedication, and respect for the scientific method and intellectual honesty.

Martin’s wife, Leora, is the steadying, sensible, self-abnegating anchor of his life. In today’s Western culture it is difficult to imagine such a marital relationship between two professionals (she is a nurse). When Leora dies in the tropics, of the plague that Martin is there to study, he seems to lose all sense of himself and of his principles. The novel comes full circle at the end as Arrowsmith gives up his wealthy second wife and the high-powered, high-paying directorship of a research institute to go back to hands-on laboratory research.

View full annotation

Called Out

Mojtabai, A. G. (Ann Grace)

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel relates how a catastrophe involving strangers perturbs the lives of people who live in or near the site where the disaster occurs. The event is an airplane crash; the site, the small town of Bounds, Texas. Told as an inner monologue by each person who either witnessed the crash, or became directly involved in its aftermath, the well crafted narrative weaves back and forth among a widowed postmistress into whose field the plane falls; a priest who is questioning his calling and who administers last rites to all of the victims; a skeptical newspaper reporter; a reclusive young man who ghoulishly hunts souvenirs in the wreckage.

The postmistress hovers between dismay at the ruination of her field and curiosity and concern over the far-flung surviving relatives who come to visit the site long afterwards. Her thoughts are filled with memories of her husband and of the evolving relationship with her married son. She ponders that before the crash, ". . . seemed like I'd lived in a fishtank. "Then, "something shattered" and ". . . the whole world poured in."

The priest keeps the church doors open to strangers, including mourners from far away. This runs up the utility bill, drawing criticism from the parish council. So shaken is he by their small-mindedness and by his vocational doubts that he cannot say Mass. The reclusive souvenir hunter, who pocketed a body part, a hand, from the crash site, is haunted by ". . . that hand against my hand . . ." The newspaper reporter feels compelled to re-visit the scene months later.

View full annotation

A Small, Good Thing

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story concerns the death of a child and failures of communication. Scotty, an eight year old, is hit by a car on his birthday. His mother had ordered a birthday cake but "there were no pleasantries between" her and the baker. Scotty is hospitalized, unconscious, and the cake is forgotten. Dr. Francis reassures the anxious parents that all will be well when the boy wakes up.

The baker phones the parents’ home in the dead of night (when he does his baking) because the cake hasn’t been picked up, but they can’t figure out who he is or what he wants. At the same time the doctors and staff can’t and won’t answer their questions about why Scotty isn’t waking up. Dr. Francis comes to the hospital to check the child, looking tanned, meticulously dressed, as if he has just been out for the evening- he has a life outside of the hospital, but the parents have none. When they do run home, separately, to take a break, the baker torments them with his mysterious late-night calls. Their confusion and isolation deepen. The child dies-"a one-in-a-million circumstance."

The mother finally realizes that it is the baker who has been calling and tracks him down, enraged. She unleashes all of the anger which she had been unable to express to the doctors. The baker is stunned to learn about the child’s death; he begs forgiveness and offers them warm delicious cinnamon rolls. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this" and they are comforted.

View full annotation

Out of Mind

Bernlef, J.

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the first person narrative of Maarten, a seventy-one year old man who is experiencing a rapidly progressive loss of intellectual function. It is a harrowing yet poetic account of mental deterioration, revealed in an on-going chronicle of daily life and disjointed memories. The reader experiences what Maarten experiences, not only through descriptions of what life is like, but through the sequencing of thoughts and actions.

At first Maarten is just aware of being uneasy and anxious, "this feeling of being absent while being fully conscious" and he knows, from the comments of his wife, that he must be behaving absent-mindedly. His hold on familiar certainties becomes shaky--he’s not sure of how the rooms in his house are arranged. His wife, Vera, is his anchor and he realizes that his behavior has become deeply disturbing to her, as well as incomprehensible to himself. As Maarten becomes increasingly forgetful and unable to function, Vera is alternately worried, exasperated, and profoundly understanding.

Finally, Maarten is institutionalized--his thoughts disintegrate--yet we know from his observations of "the utterly moronic community" that he still has some awareness of what is happening. Although he no longer recognizes his wife, he listens to "a woman" whisper that "the spring is almost beginning . . . ."

View full annotation

Cathedral

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This short story opens with an irritated and sometimes hostile narrator whose wife has invited a blind friend to spend the night. The narrator tells us immediately that his visitor's blindness bothers him and that he is not looking forward to having a blind man in his house. The vehemence of his prejudice is surprising. His initial anger and anxiety seem way out of proportion to the situation, as if this blind man were threatening him somehow.

Gradually, as the evening wears on, the narrator begins to relax with the blind man, though he still challenges him in all sorts of ways, such as drinking, smoking cigarettes and dope, and turning on the TV (which, of course, the blind man cannot see). A documentary about cathedrals is showing. The narrator tries to describe a cathedral in words. When that doesn't succeed, the blind man holds the narrator's hand as he draws a cathedral on a paper bag. The experience of this successful communication transforms the narrator.

As the blind man says, "Terrific. You're doing fine. Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime?" The narrator closes his eyes and draws blind, saying, "So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now." The ending leaves us pondering about how much more the narrator is learning about himself and about human communication than the blind man is learning about cathedrals.

View full annotation

The President

Barthelme, Donald

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The new U.S. President is tiny, strange, and apparently brilliant. Somehow the people believe that he will identify problems and find solutions. People are fainting. No one seems to know what is going on. No one thought such a tiny man could be elected President, but he won in a landslide. The society seems to believe the President can do great things; but no one seems to have any idea what those might be. Meanwhile, people keep fainting.

View full annotation

Dwarf House

Beattie, Ann

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

James, a dwarf, lives in a dwarf house and has a dwarf girl-friend. His brother, MacDonald, thinks of James as a dwarf first and a person second. MacDonald is really bothered by James wanting to marry--as if marriage and sexual relations were something dwarfs shouldn't do. When MacDonald tells his mother James has other people to talk to in the dwarf house, she says, "Dwarfs, not people. He's hiding from the real world." She too does not see dwarfs as real people, and sees herself as punished by giving birth to a dwarf. Yet at the wedding itself, the bride is genuinely happy, as MacDonald recognizes to his surprise.

View full annotation