Showing 121 - 130 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice

Tear

Hogan, Linda

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrative voice (probably female) links the ancestral past of a Chickasaw heritage with the present and future, "remembering" a long, forced march to Oklahoma under military surveillance. The women sewed tear dresses "because settler cotton was torn" but the miserable circumstances generated tears "so they were called / by this other name, / for our weeping." She sees herself as the reason for their survival, and at the same time, her ancestors ". . . walk inside me." The poem is cleverly constructed to give a strong sense of the continuity of generations and of the impact of a people’s history on individual lives.

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The Shrine at Altimara

L'Heureux, John

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

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.

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The Shadow Man

Gordon, Mary

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled "A Daughter's Search for Her Father," this memoir chronicles author Mary Gordon's quest to recapture the essence that was her father, a man she idolized and adored while he was alive--and long after his death when she was only seven years old. This death she saw as the single most defining event of her life. Identification with her father was essential to the conception of self, both as a creative writer, and as a worthwhile person. So she "entered the cave of memory" but found that memory was discordant with the facts.

Gordon's father was a writer, and a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. His persona was that of an intellectual, a graduate of Harvard, a frequenter of literary circles in Oxford and Paris. He claimed to be an only child, born in Ohio. As Gordon explores her memory and the historical record, forcing herself to confront her father's political opinions--opinions which are repugnant to her, and which she had earlier chosen to ignore--she uncovers a charade.

Her father, it turns out, was an immigrant from Vilna (in Eastern Europe) and had never finished high school. He had two sisters whom he never acknowledged to his family--one spent years in a mental institution where she ultimately died. Among his published writings are pornography and political diatribe (he was an anti-Semite and a facist); his writing was stylistically flawed.

This memoir is Mary Gordon's attempt to come to terms with what she learned about her father. It is the narrative deconstruction and reconstruction of the author's self; it is both biography and autobiography; a reflection on loss and recovery.

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Birthmates

Jen, Gish

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

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.

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Who's Irish?

Jen, Gish

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Told in the voice of an immigrant Chinese grandmother, this is a story of gaps--gaps of communication, cultural gaps, age gaps, gaps in family relationships. The narrator describes herself as "fierce." Now widowed, she and her husband had owned and operated a restaurant; her married daughter is also "fierce" because she is a bank vice president and quite ambitious. Grandmother takes care of little Sophie, her granddaughter, the product of a mixed marriage--her son-in-law is Irish.

The narrator is contemptuous of her son-in-law because he and his brothers are unemployed even though they are white and were born in the USA. To the narrator, the world is upside down. Her son-in-law (John) is at home but thinks that it would demean him to baby-sit for his own child; in China her daughter would be taking care of her but instead, she is baby sitting to help her daughter out. Grandmother cannot understand why her son-in-law needs to be pampered, why she needs to be "supportive"--"we do not have this word in Chinese, supportive." She and her daughter differ about how to discipline Sophie. There are indications that John would like to send his mother-in-law back to China.

Events come to a crisis when the willful Sophie--perhaps reacting to the strains on her parents' marriage--defies her grandmother, hiding from her in a playground foxhole. The child's parents are horrified by what looks to them like child abuse. Grandmother must move out. Yet, at the same time, the daughter is miserable, and grandmother feels useless. Says the daughter, "I have a young daughter and a depressed husband and no one to turn to." Narrates her mother, "when she says no one to turn to, she mean me." As the story closes, grandmother is living with her son-in-law's mother, a woman whom she admires.

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Still Waters in Niger

Hill, Kathleen

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Described as an autobiographical novel, this book is narrated in the first person and reads like a memoir. But it is a "memoir" charged with atmosphere, imagery, and longing. The narrator is an American woman, a mother of three children, and the wife of an academic. After an absence of 17 years she has returned to Niger--the country in northwestern Africa where she had lived with her three small children and husband, while the latter was completing his doctoral dissertation. Now she is visiting her oldest child, Zara, who has been living for the past two years in Niger, and working in a medical clinic.

As the narrator reacquaints herself with the culture and climate of the country, she re-visits--in memory--young motherhood, her relationship with the six-year-old Zara, and her interactions with the people and surroundings. The novel shifts back and forth between the past and the present Niger while the narrator attempts to integrate her experiences: she sees the country and her daughter through new eyes.

She is overwhelmed with guilt about what she calls her "inattention" (17 years ago) to the lives of the Nigerans around her; guilt about her failure to learn the native language; guilt toward her children, for her own self absorption. "After all, what was I doing the year we lived in Zinder [the city where they had lived]? That is the question that looms between Zara and me . . . Of what was I thinking? It is not enough to say that instead of working in a clinic [as Zara now does] I was spending my days with Lizzie and Tulu and herself. That doesn't answer it. All of Zinder waited beyond the gate." (71)

The narrator watches with admiration and envy as Zara interacts comfortably, even intimately, with the native women and their children, speaks the language fluently, and negotiates her way with self assurance in this foreign land. Not only does the narrator feel inept, she feels that she has "lost Zara to a world in which I am entirely a stranger." (73) Thus cultural dislocation becomes the trigger for intense reflections on the nature of parenthood, and the female experience of marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and aging. These reflections are magnified by the narrator's loss of her own mother, who has recently died.

The native women that she meets through Zara help her to understand that some of these experiences transcend cultures, even though their surface manifestations may differ. For example, the often hyper-critical attitude toward first born children, and the refusal of native parents to even utter the name of the first born child relates to the shame associated with this evidence that the mother has lost her virginity. "Shame is the right word, exactly," thinks the narrator, "and I wonder now that I have not stumbled on this knowledge before." (77) But more than the "thorough and irrevocable . . . violation of the space around one's skin" it is the associated separation from the mother that the narrator recognizes as being at the core of sexual awakening; it is this inevitable separation from her own daughter that she is now trying to absorb.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is the second edition of Hawkins's groundbreaking work on illness narratives--autobiographical and biographical accounts of illness that she calls "pathographies." This edition preserves the text of the earlier (1993) work but updates it with a new preface and a new concluding chapter. This new chapter (chapter 6) surveys works written since 1992 and expands the discussion of mythic thinking and narrative.

Hawkins posits that mythic thinking pervades illness writing. Mythic constructs, she argues, organize the way patients understand their illness, how they interact with the institution of medicine, and how they write their narratives. Myths are formulative in that they attempt to create order out of the disorientation of illness. In the texts selected, Hawkins identifies "archetypal" (transcultural, transhistorical) myths--myths of journey, battle, and death and rebirth (discussed in the first edition as well).

In this edition Hawkins introduces a new term: "ideological" myths. Ideological myths are "linked to a particular culture at a particular time" (xiii). In this category is the myth of healthy mindedness, a way of thinking that was labeled "mythos" in the earlier edition. Hawkins proposes two additional ideological myths, discussed in chapter 6: the Gaia myth (that links illness and environmental problems), and the "myth of narrativity" (xiii).

The book's chapters are organized around the myths enumerated above, with many examples. Most of the works discussed were written in the latter part of the 20th century, but there are several pages devoted to John Donne's Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (see annotation in this database). Hawkins determines how, in specific cases, the myths she has identified function--whether they are "enabling" or "disabling," and whether they are "medically syntonic or dystonic" (21-24). Myths that have an enabling function are adaptive, useful, help recovery or adjustment, ameliorate suffering. They are often medically syntonic--compatible with the belief system of Western medicine. One notable exception to this is Hawkins's paradigm of the ideological "myth of healthy mindedness," in which to be enabled often means to controvert traditional medical practices.

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Mistaken Identity

Hoagland, Tony

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The male speaker describes being brought by a woman friend to a lesbian bar, on a mission "to educate me on the issue / of my own unnecessariness" where he feels quite out of place and uncomfortable. He is startled because he thinks he sees his mother there, "happy to be alive again / after her long marriage / to other people's needs . . . . " The lesbian who looks like his mother knows what she wants, and doesn't hesitate to take it.

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Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A night on the town with two friends turns into "an attack of nerves" for Vasilyev, a law student. The three students spend the night drinking and visiting houses of prostitution; Vasilyev is horrified and repulsed by the women, who he thinks are "more like animals than human beings." The social problem of prostitution becomes an obsession; he is so fixated on finding a solution that he is in moral agony. His friends, among whom is a medical student, are concerned only with his health; they take him to a psychiatrist who "cures" Vasilyev with bromide and morphine.

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Love

Butler, Robert Olen

Last Updated: Dec-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is a Vietnamese husband who has a beautiful, flirtatious wife. They have been living in the New Orleans area for more than a decade, arriving in America after the fall of South Vietnam. The husband tells a remarkable story about the lengths to which he has gone, both in Vietnam and in America, to intercept and discourage his wife’s extra-marital interests. The narrator is humorously self-deprecating and matter-of-fact.

In Vietnam, he was a spy for the Americans, and able to "bring fire from heaven" in the form of American rocket attacks to scare off his wife’s would-be lovers; in America, he adapts to the local culture by consulting a "low-down papa" voodoo specialist. What follows this consultation is a hilariously told sequence of events that succeeds finally in winning the wife’s loyalty.

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