Showing 141 - 150 of 566 annotations in the genre "Novel"

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

After his divorce and a year of traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders, Orville Rose returns to his home town of Columbia, New York upon learning of his mother's death. He discovers upon his return that in order to receive the benefits of his mother's will he must stay in this "Hudson River town plagued by breakage" for one year and 13 days. What transpires over that time is the heart of this novel which includes Orville's love story with a single mom (who has her own physical breakage), a renewed relationship with his mentor, Dr. Bill Starbuck (the inventor of the cure-all Starbusol who leaves Orville to travel the world with his wife Babette, before returning to town to receive Orville's care as he dies), and the often hilarious account of Orville trying to care for the citizens of Columbia. Thrown into this mix of new and old relationships is the floating presence of his dead mother as well as the in-his-face presence of Orville's boyhood arch-nemesis who now is riding high in Reagan's "Morning in America" as Columbia's candidate for congress.

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The Human Stain

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Dec-04-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Human Stain is the third of Philip Roth's trilogy of novels that explore the relationship between public and private life in America during the second half of the 20th century. As in American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's favorite alter ego, serves as the narrator. After a prostate operation rendered him impotent, Zuckerman has retired from the world to become writer in residence at idyllic Athena College.

There he meets Coleman Silk, a former dean and classics professor who was forced to resign because of a supposed racial slur, in which he asked whether two students who had registered for his course but never attended a lecture were "spooks." They were African-Americans. Hence, political correctness dictated that Silk's academic career was history.

Zuckerman enters the scene a couple of years later, when the septuagenarian Silk is having an affair with an illiterate college janitor. This liaison has revitalized the old professor, whose wife died during the period of disgrace after his "racism" was exposed. However, Silk's enemies at the college, led by a bitterly proper young deconstructionist, have gone on the warpath again, this time condemning him for exploiting the young janitor.

The real story, though, lies deep in Coleman Silk's past. We eventually learn that Silk is a light skinned African-American who gradually drifted across the American racial divide and for 50 years has successfully passed as a white Jew. The irony in this situation is complex. A black man thought by the world to be Jewish is publicly disgraced for uttering the word "spook" in its correct denotation. (This is reminiscent of a case a few years ago in which a public official in the United States was chastised for using the word "niggardly" with reference to an inadequate budget allocation.)

The situation is doubly ironic because Silk has chosen to live his life as a white man, thereby in a sense establishing his own racism. Silk's original goal had been to live as an individual, and not as a representative of his race, but in choosing to deny his roots, perhaps Coleman Silk's guilt is deeper and more complex than his pursuers at Athena College realize.

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The Cure for Grief

Hermann, Nellie

Last Updated: Sep-22-2008
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The voice of a young girl leads us through this spare and tautly told story of a closely-knit family upon whom tragedy falls like a plague.  Before death and mental illness take up residence there, we meet the Bronstein’s, two parents and four children, in their comfortable, well-run home outside of Boston.  Hermann delicately renders the portents of change and pain that haunt all loving families. The novel opens with the nine year-old Ruby Bronstein’s discovering, while walking along the beach with her three older brothers on a winter afternoon, an old rusty pistol poking out of the sand. 

The family story deepens as the teenage Ruby recounts a sojourn with her parents to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp where her father was interned as a child. Hermann’s restraint and precision in this sequence make this potentially familiar journey entirely new.  With her young eye trained on her father’s every muscle-twinge of reaction to what he sees, she crisply conveys the unknowability of even an adored father –let alone the events that took place within these walls. Her father’s inaccessible childhood memories are not miraculously jarred by this return to the scene of trauma – but he learns shortly thereafter of a brain tumor that soon will end his life.

One tragedy follows another, the emergence of mental illness in one brother, the death of another.  The narrative traces Ruby’s efforts to carry on in the face of these devastating losses.  Here is where the novel explodes in cold fire, in its quiet accounting of a young person’s grief as it is lived in its ordinary, daily course.  Loss begins to deform her social life, giving her the feeling that she is a freak.  The scale of things is too disproportionate; she dresses for the prom while her brother lies dying in the intensive care unit.  Carrying the stigma of disaster, she hides news of family developments for which she has no vocabulary.  What good would talking do anyhow, she asks –until she finds the listener she needs.  

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The Ballad of Typhoid Mary

Federspiel, J. F.

Last Updated: Jul-21-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel's narrator is a widowed 58-year-old Swiss-born physician, Howard J. Rageet, who lives in New York City. His son is a pediatrician, his daughter a medical student. Rageet himself is terminally ill. He is writing a "little biography," of Mary Mallon, the infamous "healthy carrier" also known as Typhoid Mary. Rageet's grandfather, also a doctor, had kept a journal about Mary and his rivalry with his friend, (the real) George A. Soper, whose life's work became tracking Mary and proving that she was responsible for the typhoid outbreaks. Elaborating on the journal, Rageet recounts Mary's life in America.

Born Maria Anna Caduff in the same part of Switzerland as Rageet's ancestors, she arrives in New York Harbor in 1868, aged 13, on a crowded immigrant ship, a fifth of whose passengers had died en route from Europe. The dead include Mary's family. She had been taken care of by the ship's cook, who evidently both taught her to cook and used her for sex. When the ship docks, Mary tries to jump overboard, but is stopped by a physician, Dorfheimer, who smuggles her through Ellis Island and takes her home with him. He is also a pedophile, and he has sex with her. Rageet calls this kidnapping a "humane, benevolent crime." Not long after, Dorfheimer dies of typhoid fever.

Rageet's "ballad" then traces Mary's various positions as a cook (and, often, sexual object), most of which end quickly when the household is infected. She has two relationships that do not lead to the disease. One is with a small girl who has Down Syndrome. Once her connection to typhoid is suspected, the child's family hire Mary to live alone with the child and care for her, hoping the child will be infected and die. The child never becomes ill. The other is with a disillusioned anarchist, Chris Cramer. She lives with him and falls in love with him, but he is not sexually interested in her.

Soper encounters Mary when he is asked by a wealthy Oyster Bay family, her former employers, to investigate a typhoid outbreak in their household. He manages to track her down and eventually, after much resistance, she is arrested, tested, and quarantined. She escapes and continues to work as a cook until her re-arrest. Promising to try and imagine Mary's motives, Rageet breaks off his narrative. He is dying. The novel ends with a postscript written by Rageet's daughter. Implying that her father committed suicide, she tells of Mary's stroke and the last years of her life as a paraplegic, and she provides a final document, the menu for one of the very elaborate meals Mary would have cooked.

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The Last Town on Earth

Mullen, Thomas

Last Updated: Jul-14-2008
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This tale narrates one town's attempt to isolate itself from the rapidly spreading influenza of 1918. Commonwealth is a fictional lumber mill town in western Washington state. The owner of the mill that is the economic center of this small village proposes, and sells to the residents, the plan for keeping the rest of the infected world from bringing disease into their midst. The single road into the relatively remote area is blocked and guarded by a rotating cadre of armed volunteers. The plan begins to fail as a stranger, a soldier claiming to be from a nearby military encampment, appears begging for food and shelter. He attempts to cross the barrier and is shot by one of the civilian guards.

The reader is introduced to the key players and the role of each in the town and in the evolving drama. The local medical practitioner struggles to advise the people, encouraging them to go along with the hardships created by not having access to supplies or the pleasures of visiting neighboring villages. Underlying the isolation is a history of political battles with the union and with competing timber companies, which bubbles to the surface as Commonwealth begins to lose its internal solidarity.

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Diary of a Bad Year

Coetzee, J. M.

Last Updated: Jun-16-2008
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

 

A well-respected, but aging and infirm author living in Australia has been invited to submit his thoughts on the world to a German publisher. Consisting first of his 'Strong Opinions' on contemporary sociopolitical controversies (such as terrorism, paedophilia, Al Qaeda) and then his 'softer' opinions (on such topics as birds, compassion, Dostoevsky and writing), these short essays lie across the top of the page. Beneath them run one, then two narratives, laid out like ribbons underneath. These consist of the story of the writer's relationship with Anya, and of Anya's relationship with her boyfriend in light of her interactions with the writer, including his plan to scam the author out of his money.

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A Spot of Bother

Haddon, Mark

Last Updated: Jun-12-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Hall has recently retired when he discovers a lesion on his hip which he takes to be skin cancer. Even though his doctor tells him that it is simply eczema, George is not reassured for long. His worry gradually becomes panic. He learns that his wife, Jean, is having an affair with an old friend of his, that his daughter, divorced single mother Katie, is going to marry a man he disapproves of, and that his son, Jamie, intends to bring his gay lover to the wedding. At this point his hypochondria becomes distinctly pathological. He attempts to excise the lesion himself with kitchen scissors and ends up in hospital.

With the help of antidepressants and psychotherapy, he begins to recover, and then, finding other marks on his skin, relapses. Things come to a climax at Katie's chaotic and (for the reader) very funny wedding, where George, on a risky mixture of valium and alcohol, makes an overly confessional speech and then physically attacks his wife's lover. Order is restored with the help of Jamie and Ray, the groom, who turns out to be heroically kind and efficient (and whose working-class status is then forgiven by George and Jean), and the novel ends with happy reconcilations. George's health anxiety has not, though, entirely disappeared and the novel ends with a clear sense of the mental effort required, especially as we age, not to give in to our fears of disease and death.

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Edwards, Kim

Last Updated: Mar-27-2008
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Because he can't reach the hospital in a winter snowstorm, Dr. David Henry ends up assisting his own wife in the birth of their twin children at his clinic with the help of his nurse, Caroline. The boy is fine; the girl has Down symdrome. While his wife is as yet unaware, he gives the girl baby to Caroline to take to an institution. Norah, his wife, remains unaware that she give birth to two children, yet is haunted by some sense of loss she can't name. Caroline, unable to leave the baby in an unappealing institutional setting, makes a snap decision to keep her. She leaves town, renewing communication later with the baby's father, and raises her as a single mother until she meets a man who is willing to marry her and love Phoebe as a daughter.

Only after Dr. Henry dies suddenly does his wife discover the existence of her daughter, through photographs sent to him over the years by Caroline, and then a visit from Caroline and Phoebe. Sadly, but with a will to choose life on strange and demanding terms, Norah and her son, Phoebe's brother, choose to enlarge their circle of family to include a loving relationship with Phoebe, clearly her own person, and the woman and man who have cared for her.

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Tomorrow

Swift, Graham

Last Updated: Mar-21-2008
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel begins as it ends - as an interior monologue, a soliloquy only the reader hears. Paula Hook, married 25 years to her husband Mike, who is asleep beside her throughout the entire novel, is reflecting on the discussion she and her husband have decided to have with their fraternal twins on their sixteenth birthday (June 10, 1995), which is the "Tomorrow" of the title. Although the book begins with "tomorrow" yet to come, it ends on "today" around dawn. The twins, Nick and Kate, have no idea that this revelation--that they are the products of artifical insemination (AI), i.e., that Mike is not their biological father--is forthcoming.

Paula Campbell and Mike Hook met casually but experienced love at first sight, despite Mike's making the sexual rounds of Paula's friends and roommates. Mike was initially a biologist but becomes a publisher of popular biological publications. Paula is a director in an art gallery in London. Both gradually become more successful and prosperous, have infertility problems and undergo AI. The discussion with the twins never takes place in the novel, which ends at dawn.

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On Chesil Beach

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Mar-15-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In summer 1962, virgins Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting take their wedding supper in a hotel suite overlooking stony Chesil Beach on the Dorset coast. Married that afternoon, each is thinking of the bed in the next room. With only a little experience, Edward has waited patiently, but looks forward, enthusiasm mingled with apprehension over his performance. Florence however is revolted and even frightened by the thought of sex, but she does not dare to reveal her fears. They are both embarrassed by the hovering staff, and eventually leave the meal unfinished.

They proceed to the bed. Florence takes the lead which pleases and surprises Edward, but he does not know that she is doing so bravely, to confront the inevitable and get it over with. Their individual thoughts forward and backward through time rehearse their meeting, their love, and the awkward encounters with parents.

It does not go well. Florence races out of the room onto the darkened beach. Edward follows her and they try to talk. She suggests a celibate marriage. He is humiliated and angry. She walks away and he does not call her back. The marriage is annulled and in the last few pages, their lives race by--hers to musical success, his with only one regret.

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