Showing 121 - 130 of 1213 Fiction annotations

Less Than Zero

Ellis, Bret

Last Updated: Jul-30-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

19 year old Clay has returned to Los Angeles for the Christmas break, his first time back after leaving for a Northeastern college.  He spends the next month meeting with his clique, going to parties and restaurants, visting a friend hospitalized for anorexia, lying on his bed at home and joining his family at the mall or for dinner.  As Clay and his friends are the progeny of LA's wealthiest, this typical return-from-college-for-the-Christmas-break story also entails driving expensive cars, steady drinking, constant smoking, copious amounts of cocaine and marijuana, and frequent sex (gay, straight; voluntary, paid-for).  Dulled by drugs and boredom, these teenagers are drawn to excesses to jolt them out of their expensively-maintained ruts: to prostitution and snuff films, to dead bodies in the street and, ultimately, to sadistic child abuse.

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Dancing After Hours

Dubus, Andre

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story is told from the perspective of Emily, a forty-year-old spinster and former high school English teacher, who tends bar in a Massachusetts town. Emily has built a "disciplined" life, seeking to protect herself from the emotional pain of earlier failed romantic attachments, and from the cynicism that propelled her out of teaching--a cynicism born out of the apathy with which the students responded to her own passionate love of poetry. She has held herself aloof from the cautious social overtures of Jeff, the bar manager.

One night, a white man in a wheelchair and his black male attendant drive up to the bar. The arrival of this pair leads Emily to examine and re-assess her life. "Emily had worked [t]here for over seven years, had never had a customer in a wheelchair, and had never wondered why the front entrance had a ramp instead of steps." The disabled man, Drew, is quadriplegic (the result of diving into a wave at age 21, as Emily later finds out). But he and his attendant, Alvin, seem to be comfortable in the bar and with each other, and Emily relaxes.

As she observes Drew and watches how Alvin helps him, she tries to imagine their lives. "She thought of Drew . . . learning each movement he could perform alone, and each one he could not; learning what someone else had to help him do, and what someone had to do for him . . . So, was anyone boundless? Most of the time, you could avoid what disgusted you. But if you always needed someone to help you simply to live . . . you would . . . become disgusted by yourself."

Emily also imagines Jeff's life as a divorced father, and she can even empathize with Jeff's former wife, who left him. Jeff, she learns, had had a friend who became quadriplegic, the victim of a land mine during the war in Vietnam--hence the ramp entrance to the bar. As the story ends, Emily agrees to let Jeff cook lunch for her.

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The Anatomy of Deception

Goldstone, Lawrence

Last Updated: Jul-09-2010
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1889, young doctor Ephraim Carroll is in Philadelphia working with the team of the famous physician and pathologist, William Osler. In their zeal to learn more, they conduct careful autopsies, but the body of a young woman upsets Osler and teammate Dr. George Turk, and they defer the examination. Baffled when her body vanishes, Carroll becomes preoccupied with identifying the woman and the cause of her death.

A darling of Philadelphia society, Osler arranges for Carroll to attend a dinner where Carroll meets and falls head over heels in love with the unconventional Abigail Benedict. Abigail is a painter and free thinker, friendly with the great artist Thomas Eakins. Both are worried about their missing friend, Rebecca Lachtmann, and they engage Carroll to help find her. Through a series of adventures he is able to locate and identify the missing corpse as hers. He discovers the cause of death by exhuming the body.

In the meantime, Turk is found dead of what appears to be cholera; however, Carroll’s suspicions lead him to conclude that the young doctor was murdered by a dose of arsenic cleverly calculated to mimic symptoms of the infection. Drug addiction and an abortion ring lie at the heart of this crime.

Osler is being courted for a position at the new Johns Hopkins Medical School and he invites Carroll to consider joining him there.  But Carroll decides not to go to Baltimore.

To write more would give too much away. The surprise ending implicates famous doctors for unethical behavior, if not murder.

 

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Tinkers

Harding, Paul

Last Updated: Jul-06-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Washington Crosby is dying from kidney failure. The eighty-year-old man has a crumbling body - Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes, and previous heart attacks - and a murky mind. He is hallucinating and his memories are disordered. George occupies a hospital bed in the living room of a house that he constructed himself. His family keeps him company as they await his imminent demise.

Some of George's thoughts revolve around his passion for clocks and his skill in repairing them. Most of his memories center on his father, Howard Aaron Crosby. About seventy years earlier, Howard owned a wooden wagon and a horse and scratched out a living as a tinker and a peddler of household goods. Howard's father had been a Methodist minister who exhibited worsening signs of mental illness. The man was eventually escorted out of his home. Only a young boy at the time, Howard would never see his father again.

Howard suffered from frequent and violent epileptic seizures. His wife and the family doctor thought Howard should be admitted to the Eastern Maine State Hospital, an institution housing feebleminded and insane individuals. Howard had a different opinion. One evening, he left his wife and four children and headed to Philadelphia. He took a new name and a new wife. He found work in a grocery store. The frequency of his seizures decreased dramatically.

George's final memory before death is a vivid one. He recalls a Christmas dinner in 1953. Someone is at the door. It is a surprise (and brief) visit by Howard to George's house. It is the first time that he has seen his father since George was twelve.

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Mendel's Dwarf

Mawer, Simon

Last Updated: Jun-15-2010
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.

The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).

By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.

In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.

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The Betrayal

Dunmore, Helen

Last Updated: Jun-11-2010
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel medicine and  politics interface, with disastrous results. The time is the early 1950s, the place Leningrad, and the Soviet leader is Josef Stalin. Andrei Mikhailovich Alekseyev is a  conscientious young pediatrician in a city hospital.  Though Andrei has been warned to be careful, he chooses to take on Gorya, a patient with osteosarcoma, the only child of Volkov, an official high in the Ministry for State Security. Dr. Brodskaya, a Jewish woman surgeon, performs a biopsy and recommends amputation above the knee. Andrei recommends that she perform the surgery. But Gorya develops lung cancer. Brodskaya applies for a transfer to Yerevan, well aware that Volkov will take revenge if the boy doesn't improve, but Andrei decides to stay in Leningrad.

He lives a spartan existence with his wife, Anna, and Anna's younger brother, 16. They bicycle out to their country dacha to fish and  harvest fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, a phone call to his home tells Andrei he is suspended from his medical practice. The police arrest Brodskaya. Shortly thereafter, in the night, Andrei hears police  boots on the stairs. The officers raid Andrei's and Anna's home, breaking furniture, emptying pickle jars into the sink, and confiscating their English dictionary. They send Andrei to Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he is tortured to get him to sign a confession. Andrei reflects on his situation: "If he dies here, he'll die alone. The last faces he will see will be the guards' faces. Outside, he would never have believed that three initials scratched into a piece of soap [from the shared lavatory] could be so precious. In here, to know that another prisoner has taken the risk of trying to communicate brings a kind of hope"(262). He forces himself not to think about his pregnant wife, instead naming the muscles of the hand, or bone after bone of the human skeleton.

Finally, he is confronted with Volkov who tells Andrei Comrade Stalin has begun a purge of doctors because doctors have been killing communist leaders: "We are uncovering an international conspiracy of Zionists working as tools of the Americans, who directed these criminal murderers and saboteurs" (277). Volkov tells Andrei the Jewish Dr. Brodskaya has ‘suffered a heart attack', that is, she has been executed. Volkov accuses Andrei of betraying his trust by amputating his boy's leg, an operation that did no good, as the boy is now dying of cancer. Volkov dismisses Andrei and goes to visit his son who is comatose. Then he shoots himself in a dark Moscow street. Andrei is sent to the Gulag for ten years.

Anna has moved to safety at their dacha with her brother, Kolya. There she gives birth to her daughter and names her Nadezhda. In March 1953, Stalin's death is announced. Beria, head of the NKVD, announces an amnesty of Gulag prisoners serving shorter sentences. Beria sets up an investigation into the Doctors' Plot and exonerates those doctors. In the following years, thousands of prisoners make their way back to the Soviet Union - one of them is Andrei.

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Summary:

This is a collection of four stories and a novella with pervasive themes of death, loss, grieving, mourning, and anger; the characters live in rural parts of the upper midwest, and there is much unhappiness in their lives.

In "Catch and Release," we accompany Danny, a talented fishing guide "not quite thirty," as he floats down a stream he knows well. He and his siblings have divided his father's ashes, his portion now in a thermos. His father died suddenly, absurdly on a bathroom floor. Although Danny knows nature well (and loves it), he is angry and heartsick. Nor is religion a comfort. Bit by bit he scatters the ashes, but there is no healing ritual.

In "Bloodsport" a young man murders is wife and then kills himself. The town funeral director feels this is "utterly incomprehensible" but provides his professional services to the family and all who  come to the service and burial. He knew the young woman, Elena, and found her attractive; now he embalms her. Twenty years later he feels a "sense of shame" that men "let her down badly."

"Hunter's Moon" presents Harold, a casket salesman. Retired, he goes on long walks, trying to make sense of is life and loves. He likes naming things. His first wife left him for another woman. His daughter (pregnant and drunk) was killed by a train. His second wife left him. His third wife died of cancer. He abuses antidepressants and liquor. Sitting on his front porch, he slumps over. All night a dog keeps watch over, we assume, his dead body.

In "Matineé de Septembre" we find a reworking of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice." In both stories, a literary figure escapes ordinary time, falling in love with a young person of the opposite sex, and falling into decadent gestures in the hope of recapturing youth. Both efforts end in failure and death. In Mann's story, the person is an older man of much literary accomplishment. In Lynch's retelling, the person is a professor and "poet of note," although not really of international fame. Actually she's a woman of inherited wealth, a wealthy snob, a narcissist, a survivor of a "perfectly bargained marriage." Her one child was stillborn. A dozen hints at her headaches suggest that she is doomed, and she dies in the last paragraph, without (as in the Mann story) the notice of the literary world.

After these grim tales comes the satiric (and also grim) novella, "Apparition." We follow one Adrian Littlefield (the last name is symbolic) who was a strait-laced pastor, then (after his wife left him) a self-help author who urged post-divorce people to live it up. The satire is trenchant. Adrian's big book is "Good Riddance." A church fundraiser with gambling allows "otherwise devout people to wallow in sin for a worthy cause." Adrian has girlfriends and one-nighters. He's an expensive speaker. Fortunately one Mary De Dona provides him with gratuitous sex, and he is saved. Now 50+, he visits the empty house where his wife once lived, learning little; his tour guide, one "Gloria" is in her 70s, married for 58 years, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wishes he could have had such a life and feels "a wave of sadness." 

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The Unnamed

Ferris, Joshua

Last Updated: Mar-29-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Tim Farnsworth is a well-regarded lawyer at a fancy, cutthroat midtown law firm in New York City, with a devoted, if occasionally uncertain, wife and a rebellious teenage daughter.  Their comfortable marriage has survived her bout with cancer and his earlier bout with a strange condition: he will suddenly be compelled to walk, setting out on foot regardless of where he is or what he is doing, unable to stop himself until he eventually curls up asleep, whatever the weather and conditions around him.  He is about to lead the defence of a prominent businessman charged in the slaying of his wife when the condition abruptly returns.

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War Dances

Alexie, Sherman

Last Updated: Mar-23-2010
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

I believe the best way to describe this partly autobiographical story is as an illness travelogue. Alexie prepares his reader for a strange journey by making the first stop his discovery of a dead cockroach in his suitcase. This allusion to The Metamorphosis works wonderfully well for the Kafkaesque remainder of the journey.  His bodily journey moves from loss of hearing to possible meningioma to his doctor's proclamation that his "brain is beautiful." His existential/psychological/cultural journey, triggered by his bodily suffering, moves in multiple directions: to time spent with his dying father, his own experience with hydrocephalus, his grandfather's death in WWII, and his loving relationships with his children, wife and brother-in-law.

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Love in the Ruins

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

First published in 1971 and subtitled, The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, the novel is a satire of the limits of technology, the medicalization of the human spirit, and the trivializing tendencies of 20th century medical science. Dr. Tom More is an "impaired" psychiatrist: an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a half-hearted clinician. He develops the lapsometer, a kind of stethoscope of the human spirit with which he plans to cure humankind’s spiritual illnesses. Living daily with the contempt of his colleagues, he tries to prove himself and runs into all kinds of mischief, allowing the author to spoof the ills of medicine as it is practiced today.

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