Showing 141 - 150 of 1228 Fiction annotations

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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Push

Sapphire

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Narrated by Precious Jones, a 16-year-old African-American girl pregnant for the second time with her father's child, Push is a novel tracing her movement from anger, illiteracy, resignation, and self-contempt to some version of hope. The voice of Precious, raw and almost unintelligible at the beginning of the story, is changed when a courageous African-American teacher relentlessly inspires Precious, along with several other seemingly doomed teenagers, to learn to read, to discover what and how they feel, and to put it all down in a diary. The novel ends with everything uncertain and unfinished, but with a young woman changed by the appearance of self-respect.

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The Sweet Hereafter

Banks, Russell

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel that begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brought to the tragedy.

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The Bonesetter's Daughter

Tan, Amy

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Bonesetter's Daughter is divided into two major stories. One is the story of Ruth, an American-born Chinese woman, a ghostwriter for self-help books, in a relationship with a white man, stepmother to his two teenaged daughters, and finally, daughter of LuLing, who Ruth fears is becoming demented. Ruth begins to realize what her mother's memory loss means to both of them: for her mother, an increased need for attention, for Ruth, disappearing stories that could help Ruth understand her family and render a feeling that she is part of a larger story.

The second major story is that of LuLing, which Ruth discovers in the form of documents LuLing had given her several years earlier, written in Chinese, LuLing's attempt to hold on to fading memories of her life in China. This story within a story--LuLing's life in a village called Immortal Heart; the secrets passed on by her nursemaid Precious Auntie (who, we learn, is also her mother); a cave where bones are mined that may be the teeth of Peking Man; tales of ghosts and curses--parallels in many ways the present-day issues confronting Ruth: an inability to speak up to her partner and his two daughters; why she remains a ghostwriter, without a voice of her own; an increasingly problematic and confusing relationship with her mother. Answers to both women's puzzles and problems unfold as LuLing's story is translated in its entirety, providing answers through memory and words that could not be spoken, only recorded.

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Family Matters

Mistry, Rohinton

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Retired professor Nariman Vakeel, suffering at 79 from Parkinson’s disease and a broken ankle that won’t heal, is more or less cast out of his home by his stepchildren to be cared for by his married daughter Roxana, her husband Yezad, and their two sons. The novel is a portrait of family life and the strife among siblings amidst moments of grace when an aging parent requires care; it is also a rich account of life in Bombay’s Parsi community in the mid-1990s.

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