Showing 121 - 130 of 366 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

The Glass Castle

Walls, Jeannette

Last Updated: Apr-14-2008
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The Glass Castle, a gripping memoir about growing up devastatingly poor in America, opens with this first line: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." (p. 3) Jeanette Walls slinks down in the taxi's back seat and returns to her Park Avenue apartment. A few days later, she manages to contact her homeless mother and take her out for dinner, offering her help, yet again. But her mother refuses, and when asked what Jeannette is supposed to say about her parents, her mother replies "Just tell the truth...[t]hat's simple enough." (p.5) And with these words, Walls launches into the history of her upbringing, with all the deprivations, suffering, joys, shame, exasperations, tribulations and sorrows - the story of the Rex and Rose Mary Walls' family.

Rex Walls is an alcoholic and dreamer, his wife an artist and egoist; both are psychotically blind to the basic needs of their four children. Yet the parents do feed the children with love and intellectual stimulation, managing to keep the family unit intact while the children figure out how to survive. The reader first meets the child Jeannette at age three when she is on fire, cooking hot dogs on the stove in a trailer park, completely unsupervised. She requires multiple skin grafts but enjoys the regularity of hospital food, until six weeks later her father abducts her from the hospital in the first of a series of "skedaddles" that the reader learns is the way Rex Walls stays ahead of bill collectors and other authorities.

At each miserable turn, the reader wonders if things can get any worse. They do. The family winds up living in a rotting hut without plumbing in the coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia. Rex steals money from his children, Rose Mary buys herself art books instead of food for the family. The kids eat garbage they secretly remove from trash bins at school.

But finally, one by one, the kids do escape, although, like everyone, they carry the past within them. To varying degrees, each is scarred. Nonetheless, Jeannette works her way through Barnard in New York City and becomes a contributor to MSNBC. Ultimately the book is a tribute to the gutsy resilience of some remarkable individuals.

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Cancer Vixen

Marchetto, Marisa

Last Updated: Apr-03-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

Cancer Vixen is the graphic narrative of Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s eleven-month cancer experience in 2004. Marchetto, a successful forty-something cartoonist for Glamour magazine and the New Yorker, serialized Cancer Vixen in Glamour while undergoing treatment. As well as the narrative of Marchetto’s diagnosis, treatment, and remission, Cancer Vixen recounts the story of Marchetto’s romance and engagement to restaurateur Silvano Marchetto, a narrative embedded in the graphic novel despite preceding it in actual chronology. The narrative explores fears about the cancer's effect on the relationship and about the loss of the chance to be a biological mother, as well as developing the relationship between the engaged couple and between Marisa and her mother (or "(s)mother," as she calls her).

The culture of cancer is another focus, including the social dynamics of having hair during cancer treatment and thus leaving oneself open to critique for not undertaking a strong enough chemotherapy. While this New York story, full of cuisine, couture (including images of the specific shoes Marchetto wore to each chemo), and cappuccino may recall the episodes of the television show Sex in the City featuring cancer, the brightly colored frames of this “Cancer in the City” tale also engage political issues like environmental causes of cancer and the reduced survival rates of women with cancer and no insurance.

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Silvie's Life

Rogoff, Marianne

Last Updated: Apr-01-2008
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book chronicles a tortured parenthood during the birth and brief life of a severely brain-damaged female infant, Silvie. Doctors predict that the child will live only a few days but instead she survives for seven months. The story is told in first person by the mother, beginning with her arduous labor during a home delivery in the presence of an experienced midwife and the family physician. The baby does not cry when she is born and turns blue even with oxygen that the doctor administers. An ambulance is summoned; "a bigger, better oxygen machine" restores the baby's color and she is brought to a hospital neonatal intensive care unit where she is artificially ventilated and fed.

In the hospital Silvie "fails" all the tests of normalcy. The doctors recommend removing artificial ventilation. "I feared, even more than I feared her death I think (and harder to admit), that they would remove the oxygen pump and the baby would live on and on and never be able to do anything at all" (14). Yet when the child does in fact breathe independently, "I took the fact that she could sustain her own breathing to mean that the baby wanted to live. It was all right to love her" (15). A few days later, however, the medical team concludes that there is nothing further they can do for the baby, that the parents should take the child home, where she will likely die within a couple of days. Upon being prodded, one physician suggests the parents give her an overdose of phenobarbital, which she is receiving for continual epileptic seizures.

At home, the parents feed Silvie by tube, medicate her, change her diapers, hold her, and learn from a friend how to swaddle her. The child never cries, does not focus her eyes on anything, rarely responds to sound or touch, and gains no weight. Whatever random responsiveness there seems to be gives the author a sense of motherhood: "I was able to survive because of my faith in these intermittent chance meetings, believing that Silvie did know when I was here and that I was holding her close in a way that meant love" (37). The parents brace themselves for Silvie's death. The husband's sister visits and councils them to actively put an end to Silvie's life, which they refuse to do. But they do not plan to take extra measures (CPR) if Silvie seems to be dying at home and when they articulate this to a social worker whom they consult to obtain respite care, it becomes clear that she would report them to Child Protective Services.

The husband quits his job as a residential counselor of emotionally disturbed teenagers to do part-time carpentry work -- he is too preoccupied to care about other people's problems. When a friend accidentally breaks the phenobarbital bottle, the parents together with the family physician decide to see how Silvie will get along without the drug. To their amazement, the baby appears slightly more alert and is able to suck from a bottle -- no more feeding tube required. But the husband reminds his wife, "The doctors warned us she might do this. This is the one and only thing she can ever learn. They said when this happened to other parents they started to believe that the baby was getting better" (59).

The parents live in limbo, attempt to live a "normal" life. When Silvie starts to lose weight at age 4 months, the doctor advises to resume tube feeding; they don't see the point, but when hospital physicians use the word, "murder," and threaten to "take over" Silvie's care, the parents relent. The baby lives but "it was the sameness of Silvie that drove you crazy . . . She slept and woke, but was awake that much different? She did not change, she did not change. Her sameness was a stone I wore, an emblem of failure, failed life" (96).

The final act for Silvie begins when the author's mother-in-law is dying of cancer in New York and a decision is made to leave the baby at home in California for several days in the care of a retired nurse. The nurse has been shown how to do the tube feeding, but while the parents are in New York she experiments with spoon feeding, then discontinues tube feeding for three days before the parents return. The parents see that Silvie has deteriorated in their absence and resume tube feeding. For the remaining couple of months the parents wait, investigate institutionalizing Silvie, and finally determine that "the way we loved Silvie meant we loved her enough to let her die" at home, with "a certain amount of fluid and nourishment for comfort, but a gradual withdrawal of excessive food. Replaced with a lot of touching and holding, stroking and whispering" (122). Silvie dies and the author is four months pregnant with the baby she and her husband have decided not to abort.

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Nobody Else Has to Know

Tomey, Ingrid

Last Updated: Mar-12-2008
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Webber hits a young girl, seriously injuring her, while taking a little illegal driving practice with his indulgent grandfather. Webber, himself, is injured, and unlikely to return to the track team he has loved. He has trouble remembering the accident during the first weeks of his recovery, especially since his grandfather has determined to take the blame for the accident. But as memory returns, aided by the bitter insinuations of a classmate who babysits the injured girl, Webber is torn between accepting his grandfather's cover for the sake of a clean record and an unencumbered high school career, and confessing. The technical fact that his grandfather was legally responsible for letting him drive complicates the ambiguity of his dilemma. Ultimately, he makes the decision to confess. The book concludes with his telling his grandfather of his intention--a decision that is sure to be relationally as well as legally consequential.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection includes selected poems from each of Bruce Weigl's seven books, beginning with Executioner (1976) and continuing through Sweet Lorain (1996), as well as a group of new poems. In the early poem "Anna Grasa," the poet writes, "I came home from Vietnam. / My father had a sign / made at the foundry: / WELCOME HOME BRUCE." But Weigl had brought Vietnam home with him. The trauma and suffering of his war experience informs his sensibility and serves as subject matter for a large number of his poems.

In "Amnesia"(1985), he comments, "If there was a world more disturbing than this? / You don't remember it." And the rumination continues in "Meditation at Hue"(1996), "Some nights I still fear the dark among trees / through last few ambush hours before morning." And Weigl concludes "And we Came Home," one of the new poems in this volume, with, "No one / understands how we felt. / Kill it all. Kill it all."

Some of the other powerful war poems in Archeology of the Circle are "Dogs," "Girl at the Chu Lai Laundry," "Burning Shit at An Khe," "The Last Lie," "Song of Napalm," "Sitting with the Buddhist Monks, Hue, 1967," and "Three Meditations at Nguyen Du." Yet love and largeness of spirit also inform the world of Bruce Weigl, who tells us, "What I have to give you / I feel in my blood, / many small fires / burning into one."("Bear Meadow?)

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In the Next Galaxy

Stone, Ruth

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This award-winning collection, published when the author was in her late 80s, contains 96 poems, most of them no more than one page in length. These poems are complex, interesting, surprising, and full of the pain of life. Stone has suffered and she does not hesitate to dwell on the causes of her suffering but she is not maudlin--she has lived and thought about life and she shows us how she lives and thinks.

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Consumption

Patterson, Kevin

Last Updated: Mar-04-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the Arctic, winter goes on for ten months every year. The cold temperatures penetrate every aspect of human life. Existence is a struggle. In the Canadian community of Rankin Inlet, an Inuit woman finds personal tragedy as abundant as the snow. Victoria is diagnosed with tuberculosis (puvaluq) as a child and sent to a sanatorium far south of home. Following treatment with medication and a thoracoplasty, she returns to her town years later. Victoria's experience has changed her view of the world but she quickly discovers that in her absence, the people and locale have transformed too.

She marries an outsider, John Robertson, who is a British businessman. His success and local influence allow him to arrange for a foreign-owned diamond mine to open in the area, and with it, a new hospital for the territory. The couple have three children - a son, Pauloosie, along with two daughters, Justine and Marie.

Victoria seems a magnet for misfortune. At age 16, she has a miscarriage. A fourth child dies during a complicated delivery. Her marriage is increasingly strained beyond repair. Victoria's father suffers a stroke and becomes demented. Her mother dies of lung cancer. Husband John is murdered - someone slits his throat. Marie commits suicide. Pauloosie leaves home and sails to the South Pacific.

The Robertson family frequently interacts with the American primary care physician stationed in the isolated region. Dr. Keith Balthazar is a middle-aged atheist who has toiled in the Arctic for more than 20 years and abuses morphine. He keeps a journal of his experiences and meditations and commiserates with the local priest, Father Bernard.

Escape appears to be the best chance at happiness. For Victoria and most everyone else living in this harsh and beautiful land, survival - both physical and emotional - is hard. Personal choices are confusing. Nature doesn't seem to care one way or another.

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Bringing Vincent Home

Mysko, Madeleine

Last Updated: Jan-27-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Within the first few pages of this novel, the reader is thrust into the midst of a family--their past history, their present tragedy, and their future healing.  Kitty Duvall, a middle-aged woman living in Baltimore, Maryland, receives a phone call informing her that her son, soldier Vincent Duvall, has been injured in Viet Nam and now lies, severely burned, in the Intensive Care Unit of Brooke Army Medical Center.  Kitty packs her bags and rushes to his bedside.  Thus begins this straight forward and yet complex story, one that weaves between past and present, one that examines the lives of caregivers, especially nurses; the lives of patients, particularly those young men and women sacrificed to war; and the lives of the parents who must, as Kitty does, find their places alongside their dying or healing children, always wondering how best to help them. 

Although this book is a novel, it reads like a memoir.  Indeed, the events of the novel seem so right and so accurate because the author served as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps at Brooke Army Medical Center during the Vietnam War.  Her own experience as a nurse, her own memories of the burned and wounded men, inform this novel and bring to it an accuracy and an urgency that takes the reader behind the scenes into unforgettable images of war and recovery.  Although set in the Vietnam era, this story is especially relevant today, when once again soldiers and their families must deal with the physical and emotional wages of battle.

 

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Sicko

Moore, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-08-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The movie opens with a shot of a young man stitching up a laceration in his own knee. Another describes how he had to select which of two severed fingers would be re-attached because he could not afford both operations. They are among the millions of Americans without health insurance. But, the narrator says, the movie is not for them; rather it is for the majority of U.S. citizens who do have medical insurance and believe themselves protected.

Through a series of riveting vignettes, for-profit health care is shown to tyrannize the well, ruin the ill, and destroy families. It also erodes the psychological and moral fiber of the people working in the industry. Excursions to England, Canada, France and Cuba are presented in a series of encounters with physicians and patients, none of whom believe that they would be better off in the United States. A French doctor opines that he earns an adequate salary for a good quality of life. Even those seated in a Canadian waiting room profess satisfaction with the care given and understanding about delays. When asked why anyone would accept to pay the expenses of others, an elderly golfer explains patiently that it is what we do for each other in a caring society. Ex-pat Americans gather at a bar to describe their positive experiences with foreign health and maternity care.

Interviews with emotionally distraught people who have worked in the insurance industry reveal the relentless pressure to deny coverage and its reward system that favors those who generate the biggest savings. Special attention is given to Dr. Linda Peeno who testified before Congress in 1996, confessing that she had harmed people for the economic benefit of the insurance industry.

Moore gathers up a group of people whose sorry dilemmas within the U.S. system have left them with serious health problems. He escorts them to Cuba where physicians and nurses are only too pleased to diagnose and treat their illnesses– for free. The movie ends with an exposé of the superior health care given prisoners at Guantanamo and Moore’s stunt at trying to bring the unhappy Americans there for treatment.

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The Cloud Chamber

Maynard, Joyce

Last Updated: Oct-08-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Nate, 14, comes home to his family's Montana farm one day to see police cars. His father, whose head is bloodied from a gunshot wound, is taken away in an ambulance. He and his 7-year-old sister are whisked into the house and cared for by an aunt until their mother, shocked and withdrawn, returns home. In the weeks following Nate finds it hard to get any adults to level with him about what happened, though he overhears conversations that make it fairly clear it was a suicide attempt. The kids at school withdraw from him and his sister; parents in the area tell their children not to play with them, as they always suspected there was something strange about the family. Only one girl, herself something of an outcast because of her father's aggressive fundamentalist preaching, befriends him, and becomes his partner in a science project.

Nate throws his energies into the project--creating a cloud chamber in which radiation from distant stars can be seen--and into pitching for the baseball team. Both are enterprises his father would have helped him with. His father, a dreamer and scientific visionary, is in a mental hospital, recovering. The police fail to find the rifle, but Nate and two friends do find it, and so exonerate his mother, who has been under suspicion in the inconclusive case.

After the contest, in which a disgruntled student sabotages what is actually a remarkably successful and well-made project, he takes Junie and the family car and drives several hours to find his father who, it turns out, is lucid and recovering, but blind. Their mother is selling the farm, they are about to move, but there is hope of some recovery on all sides, though not what any of them would have foreseen or chosen.

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