Showing 121 - 130 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

In the Shadow of Memory

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

I used to be able to think. My brain’s circuits were all connected . . . I had a memory and an intuition that I could trust. So begins Floyd Skloot’s memoir of living his life with "a scatter of white spots like bubbles" in his brain, as a result of a viral illness in 1988 that led to chronic fatigue syndrome and persistent brain damage. The first section ("Gray Area") consists of essays that re-create a texture of mistaken words and memory lapses, as well as the author’s creativity in discovering ways to minimize or bypass disability in his daily life. The temporal vector of this section begins with the onset of illness; continues through his marriage to Beverly and their settling on a hilltop in Oregon; and ends with an idyllic stay on Achill Island off the western coast of Ireland.

The second section draws us back in time to "The Family Story," a series of stories about childhood. In "Kismet," which begins section 3, the author returns to a description of his post-illness experience, in this case to his fateful final visit with an older brother, who is dying of diabetes and kidney failure. Later, in "A Measure of Acceptance," he tells of his encounter with a Social Security psychiatrist, whose task is to determine whether Floyd Skloot is "really" sick. The Social Security Administration provides one measure of acceptance; but the author creates a more important measure of acceptance for himself: "I can say that I’ve become adept at being brain damaged. It’s not that my symptoms have gone away: I still try to dice a stalk of celery with a carrot instead of a knife . . . Along the way, though, I’ve learned to manage my encounters with the world." (p. 196)

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Into the No Zone

Metcalf, Tim

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Metcalf explores relationships between the worlds of science and experience in the three parts of this collection: devolve, involute, and evolutional. He makes it clear at the beginning: "the radiant truth is not alive / it is a sin to call consciousness dead" (10). At the same time, though, "Nobody needs YOU. Complete this form" (14). If consciousness devolves on matter, then the soul--where presumably consciousness used to live before it devolved--may be permitted to involute without consequence. "Yes, yes, / the dawn," our Bard writes, "it is beautiful. I try to miss it" (25). "Never mind who my parents were. / They dropped me off down here / on their way to somewhere else." ("Stork’s Kid," 41)

The final section, "Evolutional," suggests the direction in which our species might be moving: "Maybe I can live to one hundred and eight . . . by transplantation." ("Last to Go," 49) Perhaps the poet has already found his niche in this process, "It took me many years to find a market--niche / in speculative contemporary Australian social evolution . . . " (67) And yet, beneath all this (or above it), the poet comments, "I promised myself to speak in love only . . . You push me / for that poem I have not written yet." ("Our Poem," 43)

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He Knew He Was Right

Trollope, Anthony

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Louis Trevelyn, a wealthy and respected Englishman, marries the poor, but spirited, Emily. They live happily together for about a year, and have a son. Emily begins to accept regular visits from Colonel Osborne, an old friend of her father’s, who claims to visit Emily only as a family friend. However, his age sits lightly on him and he has a reputation for breaking happy homes.

Louis, in a jealous rage, instructs his wife to refuse all further visits from Osborne. Emily believes that he is accusing her of infidelity and is extraordinarily angry. She insists that Osborne is simply a friend. Neither partner will apologize. Eventually, Louis can no longer live with his wife. He sells the house, sends Emily and Louis, Jr. to live in the country and sets himself up in a squalid boarding house.

Emily does not wish to be separated from her husband and grows less prideful. She will gladly obey Louis’ command to no longer see Osborne, but she will not apologize for having seen him, as she believes it would be tantamount to confessing adultery. Louis, meanwhile, grows increasingly obsessed with her "disobedience" and hires a private detective to keep an eye on his wife. The detective finds that Osborne insisted on a visit to Emily--  visit that was public and lasted ten minutes, but that nevertheless leads Louis to steal his son and flee to Italy.

Louis’s obsession makes him mentally and physically ill. When Emily and her family track him down in Europe, he is deathly thin and seems mad, convinced that his wife, his friends, and even the private detective are against him. This wretched marriage is contrasted to several other relationships that develop in the course of the novel. These are based on mutual respect and love rather than self-pride and so flourish. These happy couples also physically and mentally change, but for the better.

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The Hemophiliac's Motorcycle

Andrews, Tom

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless the hemophiliac’s motorcycle, the smell of knobby tires . . . This long-lined incantation of a poem takes the reader from the motorcycle raceway to the Kanawha River to the "oak tops on the high hills beyond the lawns" and, finally, to the hospital wards and the writer’s elderly roommate, who reads his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah speech. Isn’t it dangerous for the hemophiliac to ride in motorcycle races when even "a mundane backward plunge on an iced sidewalk" can bring him to the hospital bed and the "splendor of fibrinogen and cryoprecipitate"? Of course, but why not do so anyway!

This poem is a psalm, a paean of praise and gratitude to God--gratitude for oaks, and hills, and catbirds, and star clusters. "I want to hymn and abide by, splendor of tissue, splendor of cartilage and bone." The poet is also listening--listening for the presence of God in the silence: "may He bless our listening and our homely tongues."

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Heredity

Davidson, Jenny

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Elizabeth Mann, the daughter of a world famous fertility specialist whom she despises, hasn’t quite made it into medical school. She runs away to London, where she can revel in an orgy of self-destructive behavior, while working as a freelance writer for a travel guidebook. She soon develops two obsessions. In an obscure medical museum she encounters the skeleton of Jonathan Wild, a famous 18th century criminal who met his death by hanging. During the same museum visit, she runs across Gideon Streetcar, a young fertility specialist who once worked with her father. Though Gideon is "happily" married, he and Elizabeth soon begin a torrid affair.

Elizabeth’s obsession with Jonathan Wild grows when, through Gideon, she obtains a copy of the criminal’s second wife’s memoir. Through it, she learns that his first wife, who died in childbirth, was named Elizabeth Mann. She develops a scheme to obtain DNA from Wild’s skeleton and use it in association with an experimental cloning procedure to become pregnant with the 18th century criminal’s child (clone).

When the 25 year old Elizabeth reveals that her father tied her tubes when she was 16, after having aborted her fetus--a "slut," he called her--Gideon agrees to attempt in vitro fertilization with her eggs and his sperm. He transfers two blastocysts, plus one of the supposedly cloned Jonathan Wild cells. She becomes pregnant. Soon thereafter she returns to the USA when her father has a massive heart attack and she, apparently, has an opportunity to go to medical school.

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The Scarlet Flower

Garshin, Vsevolod

Last Updated: Aug-23-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with the protagonist, identified only as the "Patient," being forcibly carried into the insane asylum. Once there, he no longer protests, but seems to accept his incarceration in the huge, overcrowded hospital. The doctor and other staff members seem particularly kind. Because the Patient rapidly loses weight, despite his good appetite, he receives a special diet.

The Patient notices a single scarlet flower among the many beautiful flowers in the hospital garden. He suddenly realizes that all the evil in the world is condensed into the scarlet flower. His mission is to destroy it. But when he attempts to pick the flower, hospital personnel prevent him from doing so, since picking flowers is prohibited. Eventually, he manages to destroy the flower, but notices a second scarlet blossom in the garden. He destroys that one as well, but a third scarlet flower appears. Finally, the Patient sneaks out at night to deal with the third flower, and then is found dead in the garden the next morning, clutching the remains of the scarlet blossom.

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Doctors' Wives

Slaughter, Frank

Last Updated: Aug-23-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story takes place in the town of Weston, the site of Weston Medical School, with its teaching hospital and private faculty clinic. The main characters are a group of seven men (six physicians and one administrator) who met while serving together in the Army during the Korean War and later joined to form the nucleus of Weston Medical School. These men all occupy prestigious positions as chiefs of various clinical departments and conduct lucrative private practices at the clinic.

Their wives meet regularly in what they call the "Dissection Club." While the women are said to be friends, their meetings consist primarily of backbiting, cattiness, and expressions of profound boredom. Mostly, they are bored with their sex lives. While the wives generally engage in small-scale infidelities (including a medical student in one case), Lorrie Delman, the wife of the biochemist, is exceptional because of her voracious sexual appetite, about which she is highly vocal. Lorrie obsessively "sleeps around." In fact, she proposes that the group devise a regular sequence of husband swapping, a suggestion that her friends vote down in favor of a more random approach to adultery.

The drama commences when Mort Delman catches his wife in bed with Paul McGill, the dermatologist. Delman shoots a single bullet that goes through Lorrie's back and chest, killing her (she is lying on top of Paul) and then lodges in her lover's heart. Marissa Feldman, the brand new female physician, accurately diagnoses and treats Paul's life-threatening cardiac tamponade in the emergency room, after which Anton Dieter, the cardiac surgeon, removes the bullet lodged in the victim's right ventricle. Needless to say, Paul McGill recovers uneventfully, and Drs. Feldman and Dieter engage in a sexual escapade.

Meanwhile, members of the "Dissection Club" begin to re-assess their lives and loves. After all, they conclude, any of their husbands could have been caught at Lorrie Delman's house having some "afternoon delight." Perhaps the wives should pay more attention to their husbands, or otherwise enhance the meaningfulness of their lives. While this is going on, Mort Delman, the biochemist-killer, has no fear of languishing in jail because he has a perfect "impassioned husband" defense. In addition, he also manages to pull off a scheme to extort money from the other physicians in return for his leaving town and not revealing everyone's secrets. If this isn't enough to whet your appetite, Doctors' Wives also features additional plot twists and a surprise ending.

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Gaudeamus Igitur

Stone, John

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Gaudeamus Igitur was read by Stone as a graduation address for the class of 1982 at Emory University School of Medicine. The poem begins with "For this is the day of joy," and ends with, "Therefore, let us rejoice." Between these two lines, Stone (both poet and physician) piles image after image, detail on detail, paradox on paradox: "there may be no answer," he writes, "For you will not be Solomon / but you will be asked the question nevertheless." He writes about the sorrows ("For whole days will move in the direction of rain") and difficulties ("For the trivia will trap you and the important escape you") of medicine, as well as about the joys of medicine ("For there will be elevators of elation").

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

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

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A physician is called to visit a sick baby in an apartment in the poorer part of town. When he arrives, the baby is being cared for by a "lank haired girl of about fifteen," the child’s sister. The parents are out. The doctor is intrigued by the young girl’s forthrightness, the "complete lack of the rotten smell of a liar." He notices that she has a rash on her legs. She asks for some medicine to help her acne.

The doctor returns later when the mother is home. She speaks little English. Evidently the child had been in the hospital, but they had brought her home because she was getting worse with hospital-acquired diarrhea. The doctor examines the baby, discovering that she has a congenital heart defect, which is probably responsible for her failure to thrive. The doctor gives advice about feeding and prescribes some cream for the fifteen year old’s acne.

Later, the doctor’s wife and his colleagues comment on the baby’s family: they’re no good, they’re crooks, he’ll never get paid. In the end he does go back to the apartment. The baby looks a little better and the girl’s face is a little clearer.

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God's Grace

Malamud, Bernard

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Cohn surfaces from a deep-sea dive to find that the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. His boat is still there, though all the crew members are gone. He hears the voice of God say that He is creating a second flood to wipe out the humans who have once again disappointed him. Yet Cohn is not another Noah, merely someone overlooked. He waits for his death or the ebbing of the flood, whichever comes first.

He discovers that a highly trained chimpanzee, Buz, has also survived and lives on board. Soon, Buz and Cohn sight a tropical island. Crusoe-like, they set up a home on the island, which apparently has no animal life. The two survive on fruits and rice. Cohn discovers that Buz’s former owner, an eccentric German scientist, implanted a voice box in the chimp’s throat. Cohn connects the wires that jut from his throat and the chimp begins to speak fluid English. Other animal life begins to appear on the island, all of it simian. A gorilla shows up first, a troop of chimps follows. Buz teaches them English.

Cohn imagines that chimpanzees are meant to replace man as the dominant creature on earth and he tries to teach them to avoid the mistakes of man. But the chimps have their own agenda. The dominant male, Esau, tries to "rape" the female when she first comes into heat and threatens all the other chimps. When Cohn mates with the female, producing a human/chimp child, the jealousy of the other chimps becomes a destructive force. Baboons appear by the shore and the young chimps hunt, kill, and eat the baboons, calling them dirty, stupid creatures. When Cohn complains, they steal his child, finally killing her. They then force Cohn to carry wood up the mountain. They slit his throat and throw him onto the fire, built from the wood he carried.

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