Showing 131 - 140 of 223 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn
The site of the multiple stories interwoven in this novel is a teaching hospital in San Francisco. One of the featured characters is a young single mother who comes in with a swollen arm and finds herself in more medical trouble than she anticipated. She suffers a mild stroke after debatable treatment. Two doctors attend her, but differ markedly in their ideas of how to treat her and their human responses to her. One ends up having a brief affair with her that changes his life.
In addition to these there are stories of a comatose young man and the family that refuses to believe he will not awaken (he does); a volunteer coordinator who observes the politics of hospital life from a privileged margin, and sundry staff people who represent alternative points of view. The single mother recovers, but only after a stay in the hospital has convinced her she may not yet be too old to go to medical school to find a life not in marrying a doctor, but in being one.
In three sections of remarkable narrative poems, Fraser reviews how his own and his family's lives are utterly changed by the birth of his youngest brother, Jonathan, who is profoundly disabled by spina bifida and has survived into adulthood--long beyond what doctors predicted. An introduction provides the context: the poems chronicle a hard journey from denial, shame, and anger to acceptance. As Fraser writes toward the end of the final, title poem: "We must learn to cherish chance to have one." But chance has dealt his brother, and so his family, a particularly hard blow.
The first section focuses primarily on his own remembered reactions and reflections--his guilt, his cluelessness--as a child and adolescent; the second on relationships with family and friends as an adult, all of them partly shaped and shaded by the ongoing suffering of his disabled brother; the third and longest, an exercise in empathy-with his mother and with Jonathan, neither of whose suffering, he realizes, is entirely imaginable to him. The poems are regular free verse, rich with allusion, emotional precision, and narrative detail.
Summary:This collection traces the writer/speaker's journey through her husband's diagnosis to his death of cancer and through the first year after loss, ending with an eight-part poem entitled "The First Yahrzeit," (69) that commemorates the one-year anniversary of her husband's death. The poems vary richly in tone, structure, and focus, some vividly descriptive of the experience, some obliquely figurative, some simple pauses over a moment or an object that has become evocative or sacralized in the course of mourning. Every one offers a surprise line or image that is worth returning to. The whole chronicles a journey of a kind many have had to take, and offers a testimony of hard-won, ambiguous healing.
The Way We Live Now consists entirely of fragments of conversation among friends concerned about a friend with AIDS. They confer on the telephone, over coffee, in the halls of the hospital, about the patient and his illness. They speculate, prognosticate, share anxieties, trade innuendoes of guilt and blame, pool their medical knowledge, and criticize the medical establishment.
The patient never appears, and indeed, we never meet a fully-fledged character, but only hear the orchestra of voices that wryly and accurately reflect the mediated and fragmented character of modern community life. News travels among them like an electric current, carrying shock waves of fear and pain. Their pooling of medical lore results in an eclectic mix of remedies that reach from chicken soup to the patient's favorite jelly beans.
By the end, several of the characters, represented only by voices in the conversation, have had to come to terms not only with the impending loss of their friend, but with their own various and unsettling responses. The disease, clearly AIDS, is never mentioned by name.
The aim of this collage of anecdotes from medical history is largely to entertain, though it is pointedly instructive in its focus on reasons for and results of medical mistakes, misapprehensions, and serendipitous breakthroughs. Gordon's dryly humorous skepticism and general irreverence is balanced by an obvious delight in the intellectual play that characterizes the history of science.
The stories he tells range from Hippocrates to the present with a heavy focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes a good representative collection of visual art and photography documenting moments in medical history upon which Gordon casts a cold but twinkling eye. Chapter titles such as "Discoveries in the Dark," "Sex and its Snags," "Odd Practices," and "Freud, the English Governess and the Smell of Burnt Pudding" give a bit of the book's flavor.
The title of this variegated narrative hardly does it justice. Though some of the most eloquent passages are about the lingering death of the author's mother, Ruth Johnson, from esophageal cancer, it is, just as centrally, the writer's memoir of growing up with the woman she has just seen through her final years of diminishment and loss, and commentary on her mother's art as testimony to her quirky, original, unconstrained, sometimes jaundiced, often hilarious view of the human comedy.
Hillary Johnson returned to Minneapolis from New York to be with her mother and stepfather after years of only intermittent contact and in the process of reentering her mother's life, came to reassess her own. Ruth chain-smoked, drank freely, lived spontaneously, painted uninhibitedly (40 illustrations include examples of her artwork) and often bestowed her art without price wherever it was appreciated. She was a local celebrity and the daughter, who has achieved her own success, finds in her mother's life a new measure of her own. In retrospect, she recognizes the costs, both to her mother and to herself, of the bohemian way of life she knew as a child, and the pain she didn't at the time fully recognize as such.
In poetry and prose the writer chronicles her father's final months as Alzheimer's disease progressively seals him into a world where those who love him can't follow. Each short segment details a moment on the writer's journey as witness to his losses: moments of confusion--his and her own, uncertainty about appropriate diplomacy, invention of new activities and rituals to keep him linked to love and alive.
With sure, spare language, she sketches in her own memories, bits of family stories, irrational feelings, the different way she comes to look at home, at family relationships, even at familiar objects. More a song than a story, the collection of vignettes offers both comfort and realism to those on similar journeys of slow loss.
At thirteen, Clair's mother has died, her father has withdrawn, and she suddenly stops speaking. Uncertain what to do with or for her, her father, a pastor, opts for complete change and follows his own dream, leaving an upscale suburban parish for a remote one among the rural poor in the northern Michigan woods. Furious, Clair strikes a deal with him that if she doesn't like it in six months, they'll return.
In the course of that time, while her father builds new kinds of relationships and trust among the local people, Clair discovers and becomes friends with a girl her age who lives mostly alone in a makeshift shelter, avoiding the attentions of her laissez-faire chain-smoking grandmother and, more importantly, her violent father who is temporarily in prison and therefore unable to hurt her.
From this girl, Dorrie, Clair learns a great deal about survival, both physical and psychological, and ultimately, surprised by an emergency into the necessity, learns to speak again. As the six months draw to a close, she finds her sisterly bond with Dorrie, whom her father has invited to live with them, and a growing appreciation of the natural setting and local people have made her not only willing, but eager to stay and make a new life where she is.
Twelve-year-old Lily Star has lost her father and moved from a cabin in the woods on the river where she grew up fishing with her father, and where she knew the natural creatures as neighbors, to an apartment in the nearby city where she and her mother continue to run the family hardware store. While she still loves the river, she finds it hard to "forgive" it because it drowned her father in a boating accident. She also resents the fact that an important stretch of land along the river is being fenced off by the man to whom the cabin was sold--T.R.--a recluse in a wheelchair. Through a series of unpleasant encounters, Lily gets to know him and learns that he had been a pilot and was disabled in an accident.
The bond the two discover over time has to do with somewhat parallel paths of healing: he needs to "forgive" the sky as she does the river. She persuades him eventually to go boating with her. Even a fall in the water doesn't discourage him from taking on new life and hope by accepting Lily's invitations to get to know the river, the land, and the neighbors. Lily's hopes that he might remain and marry her mother are disappointed when he decides to return to work with planes, though he can no longer pilot them, but the friendship that strengthened them both in their struggles with grief and loss makes it a parting full of promise.
The narrator of this straightforward little story about the loss of a friend is a young boy who is remembering what he and Nathan did together. He goes through a series of routine events he and Nathan shared, including teasing Nathan's sister about her pitching arm, nibbling strawberries on the way to school, and practicing their speeches together. The children in class make a "memory box" commemorating Nathan, but his best friend, the narrator, can't participate. His feelings are too complicated. With a little help from an old neighbor, a little time alone in the treehouse and other places he and Nathan frequented, he discovers new possibilities of friendship in Nathan's sister and ways of remembering Nathan that are all his own.