Showing 131 - 140 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

As the story opens, Raphael enters a gaming house and loses the last of his money. He decides to drown himself in the Seine. As he waits for the crowds to leave the evening streets, he wanders into an antique shop, where he tells the shop keeper that he is going to kill himself and the man shows him a mysterious-looking skin hanging on a wall. It is inscribed with a message in "Sanskrit" that one who owns the skin will have any wish granted, but that each wish will cause the skin to shrink. When the skin disappears, its owner dies.

Raphael brashly decides to take the skin. He wishes for a rich dinner, a fortune, and women. As he leaves the shop, he is stopped by friends who invite him to a dinner. Raphael tells his history. He is the son of a fairly wealthy man, but he squandered his fortune. He has spent the last three years studying in a garret and trying to win the love of Foedora, a cold society woman. His garret was warmed by the friendship of Paulina, his landlady’s daughter.

As the dinner party ends, Raphael receives word that he has inherited a vast fortune. His wishes are coming true and the skin is shrinking. Raphael now clings to life and arranges it so that his servants supply his wants before he even realizes them. One evening, he encounters Paulina; she too has inherited money and he is struck by her maturing beauty. Foedora seems ugly next to Paulina’s purity. Raphael wishes that Paulina will love him. They marry, but the skin continues to shrink.

Doctors are called to treat Raphael as his health fails and they argue over whether his disease is caused by his mind or whether his mental obsession is caused by a physical disturbance. They cannot resolve the dispute, but as their patient is a millionaire they decide to treat him anyway. They suggest applying leeches and traveling to "take the waters."

Raphael does travel and at one point duels with another young man. He warns his enemy to ask his forgiveness for otherwise, Raphael’s bullet is bound to kill him while the others’ bullet will surely miss. The other refuses and Raphael, though he shoots randomly, kills him. He takes refuge in a country cottage, but still has desires which the skin satisfies without Raphael’s conscious intention.

He returns home to Paulina and tells her about the skin. Knowing he is going to die, he indulges in a final burst of passion for her. She sees that such desire will kill him and tries to kill herself to spare him, but fails. Raphael dies.

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Gravy

Carver, Raymond

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

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Gravy is an unvarnished statement of gratitude. The poet is grateful to be alive "these last ten years . . . / sober, working, loving and / being loved by a good woman." Eleven years earlier, he had been told that he would die soon, if he didn’t quit drinking. He quit, met a woman, fell in love. "After that it was all gravy." When he was told that cancer was "building up inside his head," he told his friends not to weep for him. "I’m a lucky man."

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Gorgeous Mourning

Jones, Alice

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

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Gorgeous Mourning is a sequence of 72 short prose poems; each one a reflection--or investigation or explosion--on the single word that constitutes its title. Cycles within cycles--the cycle of individual leaves of poems from the beginning of the book to the end; the cycle of creative energy that springs from the word that identifies each poem; the cycle of relationships amongst the poems. Every aspect of this book "fits," but at the same time its "fit" is surprising and often "off."

Take, for example, the title, "Gorgeous Mourning." The front cover is a lustrous image of autumn leaves, close-up. Beautiful? Yes. But is it "morning"? It may be, nut autumn suggests the day’s ending, the year’s ending . . . more "mourning" than "morning."

"Mourn" (p. 22) reflects, "Ordinary, because everyone is full of loss . . . Lovelorn. Unformed, words for what’s gone down the drain. I thought we would have years." In "Wonder" (p. 27) the poet confesses, "I don’t have a clue. I thought I knew more than that . . . Maybe something will unfold like hose embryos morphing into form that can breathe." In the face of cancer she considers the word "Expunge" (p. 58), "Never having suckled a child she thought breasts were a waste of time to begin with. After the mastectomy, she refused to remember what his love letters said . . . "

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The Time of Death

Munro, Alice

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The neighborhood women sit in the kitchen comforting Leona Perry, whose baby has just been seriously scalded. "I was only out of the house for 20 minutes," she cries. But Allie McGee knows that she was gone for at least 45. "The last thing I said to her . . . keep an eye on the kids," Leona howls. In fact, 9-year-old Patricia had conscientiously looked after her three younger siblings, until she decided to scrub the floor. After all, Patricia thought, why can't our house be as clean as everyone else's? Why do we have to be the laughing stock of the neighborhood? So she began to boil some water for scrubbing, as she had seen other women do.

Baby Benny was 18 months old, but "Bram" was one of the only words he could say. This was the name of the scissor-sharpening man who came around every week. After Benny dies, Patricia maintains her composure, in the face of Leona's hysteria. Patricia seems to be putting the incident behind her, until one day she sees the scissors man coming down the road and she begins to scream, "I hate him! I hate him!"

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A doctor has become fascinated by mesmerism. He is curious to see what would happen to an individual put under hypnosis while dying. Would it stave off death? Would dying make hypnosis impossible? A friend agrees to be the subject of this experiment.

Seven months later, the doctor is called to the dying man’s bedside. As the patient’s breath and heartbeat slow, the doctor successfully hypnotizes him. The dying man feels no pain and responds to questions without rising from his trance. He asks the doctor not to wake him, but to let him die without pain. The next day, the patient’s eyes roll upward, his cheeks lose their color, and his mouth falls open. The man is apparently dead.

As they prepare him for burial, however, the tongue begins to vibrate and a minute later, answers the question the doctor put to the patient just before his death. "Yes; - no; - I have been sleeping - and now - now - I am dead," says the corpse. The amazed doctors leave the patient in exactly the same state for seven months. Finally, they resolve to wake him. As he begins to wake, the doctor asks what the patient’s wishes are. The dead man cries out that he is dead and must be awakened. The doctor wakes him and the corpse immediately falls apart into "a nearly liquid mass of loathsome - of detestable putridity."

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Face Lift

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

After a face lift operation, the protagonist tells the poet, "I’m all right." She describes her voyage into anesthesia, where "Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard . . . . " Afterward, after the dressings come off, she sees that she has grown backwards, "I’m twenty, / Broody and in long skirts on my first husband’s sofa . . . . " "Old sock-face" is gone--no loss! She wakes, "swaddled in gauze, / Pink and smooth as a baby."

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Exit Amor

Adair, Virginia Hamilton

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

You went out with the turning tide --Addressing her dead husband, the poet mourns the fact that he has thrown out "the bound volumes of our years . . . . " She asks why did he end his own life, "What dark eye smiled from the bore?" But no answer is forthcoming; she must simply live with the loss and endure it.

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A Fortunate Man

Berger, John; Mohr, Jean

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The subtitle of this photographic essay is "The Story of a Country Doctor." Berger and Mohr give the reader an imaginative portrait of Dr. John Sassall, an English general practitioner who lives and practices in a remote rural community. The book begins with several stories of Sassall’s work with patients, gradually introducing the man himself and revealing his thoughts about his profession, his life, and the nature of healing.

Berger explores what people in the community think about this unusual doctor who has given up his chance to "get ahead" in the world in order to remain with them. They are sure he is a "good doctor," but what does that mean? How does one judge "goodness" in a physician? Berger comments in an impressionistic way on the nature of Sassall’s relationships with patients--a complex mixture of authority, fraternity, and intimacy.

The latter part of the essay expands its focus to the community as a whole and the nature of contemporary medicine. Throughout the book, Jean Mohr’s photographs serve as indispensable features of the story.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Dr. Forrest Janney, once a prominent surgeon, has given up his practice in the city and retired to his hometown in Alabama due to alcoholism. He runs the local pharmacy and keeps up his medical license, but doesn’t practice. His brother Gene begs Forrest to operate on their nephew, who is comatose from a gunshot wound in the head; he was sent home to die. Other doctors have refused to operate because the bullet is lodged close to a major artery at the base of his skull. Dr. Janney examines the young man. Although Janney declines to operate, citing his drunkenness and tremor, he encourages his family to keep trying to find a surgeon because he estimates a 25% chance of survival if the bullet is removed.

Shortly thereafter, a violent tornado plows through the town, leaving dozens of dead and wounded. Dr. Janney immediately pitches in with several other doctors to treat the wounded and makes supplies from his pharmacy available at no charge. The comatose nephew is also found in the wreckage, barely alive, and in order to give him at least a chance, Janney operates on him, despite being fortified by a heavy dose from his flask.

A few days later, the nephew presumably dies (not clear from the text). A little girl whom Dr. Janney has befriended is sent to the orphanage in Montgomery because her father died in the tornado. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Janney leaves town, after giving his house to his brother and his family. He is on his way to save the little girl from the orphanage.

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A Doctor's Visit

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A junior doctor goes to visit the daughter of a wealthy factory owner. (The professor was too busy to go.) The daughter had been ill for a long time and had just suffered "heart palpitations" the previous night. At first the doctor finds nothing wrong with her heart, and says that her "nerves must have been playing pranks" on her.

The patient’s family presses the doctor to stay for the night. During the evening, he reflects on the oppression of the dreary factory town and relates the sense of loneliness and confinement ("like a prison") to his patient’s condition. Later, in conversing with the young woman, he actually listens to her empathically, rather than just focusing on her symptoms or the function of her heart. He is then able to respond empathically to the young woman’s plight.

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