Showing 151 - 160 of 1228 Fiction annotations

Only Goodness

Lahiri, Jhumpa

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Perhaps the strongest piece in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection Unaccustomed Earth "Only Goodness" is the story of an American Bengali family and their alcoholic son Rahul. He takes his first drink in high school when he visits his sister Sudha at college. By the time he is dismissed from college several years later, he is an alcoholic who has devastated his parents and destroyed their high expectations for him. The once precocious and promising Rahul returns to live in his parents' home and finds work in a laundromat. Other disappointments and fractures to their relationship occur as he becomes further estranged from them. Finally serious about his recovery, he sends a postcard to Sudha, now living in London with her British husband and their baby, and asks to visit them. The visit goes very well until Rahul gets drunk while babysitting his infant nephew and leaves him alone in the bathtub as he is passed out in bed. Sudha, unable to make excuses for him, asks him to leave their home the following morning.

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Ethan Frome

Wharton, Edith

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Sometimes overlooked by those attracted to Wharton's longer, more ironic novels, this novella is one of stark simplicity set against a bleak New England countryside at the beginning of the 20th century. With characteristic economy, Wharton tells a compelling story about the human need for passion and affection in a situation where only abject coldness exists.

Ethan Frome is introduced by the narrator in this way: "It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starksfield, though he was but the ruin of a man" (3). Determined to learn more about Ethan, while temporarily located in an appropriately-named village, the narrator manages to gather pieces of information about the figure who seemed an "incarnation of frozen woe in the melancholy landscape" (11).

The spark of hope that might have led young Ethan toward education and escape expired when care for his chronically-ill mother fell first to him and then to a cousin named Zenobia. Unable to abandon his mother and their needy homestead, he was easily attracted to Zenobia, the kindly young woman who assisted in his mother's care. They married, the mother died, and Zenobia inexplicably assumed a sick-role that would make Ethan's life loveless and tragic. Permanently stuck in Starksfield, his years become emotionally and economically depressed. Barely able to eke out a living hauling lumber and subjected to his bed-ridden wife's petty and constant demands, Ethan's impoverishment seems unending.

Miraculously, a third person, Mattie, enters the narrative. A distant cousin with no resources, she has been summoned by Ethan's increasingly mean-spirited wife to do chores within the house. The scene is set for two lonely and isolated people, despite age differences, to discover small bits of warmth in stolen moments together. Walks through the snow or gentle kindnesses in the dull household routine sustain the otherwise desolate pair of innocent lovers. An unexpected turn of events transforms a hopeless set of circumstances into permanent desolation and trauma. The conclusion is one of unimaginable horror.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Oscar, the narrator of this fresh fictional gem, is ten years old. Because his form of leukemia has not responded to treatment, he has been living in a French hospital for a very long time. His parents, who bring him gifts and surely love him, are uncomfortable during their infrequent visits. Dr. Dusseldorf and the nurses are kind, but indirect and distant in their communications with him. Because no one talks to him about his illness or what is likely to happen, he feels isolated, alone, and miserable.

When Mamie-Rose, a very elderly hospital "pink lady" (hospital volunteer) with an exotic past, enters Oscar's life, she brings honesty, warmth, and comfort to the lost child known as Bald Egg. Guided by this incredible person--a blunt-spoken, irreverent woman who touches him, kisses him, and tells him wondrous stories of her wrestling feats--the boy grows stronger. Who wouldn't under the influence of the Strangler of Languedoc?

Of course Oscar is going to die. In addition to her generous companionship and her introductions of him to other children in the hospital, Mamie-Rose suggests letters to God as a way of feeling less lonely. "So God, on the occasion of this first letter I've shown you a little of what my life in the hospital is like here, where they now see me as an obstacle to medicine, and I'd like to ask you for clarification on one point: Am I going to get better? Just answer yes or no. It's not very complicated. Yes or no. All you have to do is cross out the wrong answer. More tomorrow, kisses. P.S. I don't have your address: what do I do" (65).

With Mamie-Rose treating him like a real kid, "move your but . . . we're not ambling along like snails" and Oscar scripting very candid letters to God, the first-person story about loneliness, love, and compassion is presented with spirited imagination. Oscar's story is quite extraordinary--and unforgettable.

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The Incalculable Life Gesture

Lasdun, James

Last Updated: Feb-16-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Richard Timmerman doesn't see eye-to-eye with his sister, Ellen. After their parents die, the siblings inherit the house. Richard wants to sell his share of it, but Ellen won't budge. She and her son continue to live in the home. As an elementary school principal in upstate New York, Richard already has a lot on his mind.

He notices a swelling under his chin. Three weeks later, the lump is still there. He visits Dr. Taubman, but the family physician is uncertain of the diagnosis. It might be a benign enlarged lymph node but a lymphoma cannot be ruled out. Richard focuses only on the possibility of cancer. A CAT scan is scheduled along with a referral to an ENT specialist for a biopsy.

Richard questions the radiologist supervising the scan about the results. She will not tell him. He suspects that she is holding back the truth. He next sees Dr. Jameson, the ENT specialist. The young physician examines Richard and then reviews Richard's CAT scan. The doctor's verdict is a salivary gland stone (sialolithiasis) that will likely pass on its own.

At first, Richard is angry with his family physician for not making the correct diagnosis. Soon his irritation gives way to relief. Richard has received a medical reprieve. There is no lymphoma. No treatment is necessary. Life is suddenly glorious. Richard's joy is transient. He telephones his sister to announce the good news and to patch things up with her. Ellen is unimpressed by Richard's recent scare and his magnanimity. The phone call leaves Richard uncertain and fearful about his future.

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Souls Raised from the Dead

Betts, Doris

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This story details several months in the life of a thirteen-year-old with incurable kidney disease and of her extended family--the policeman father who has cared for her since her mother ran off, the mother who reappears in time to learn she is the most likely donor, two sets of grandparents and several of the father's close friends. Two women in the father's life find their romantic attachments to him complicated by his role as his daughter's caretaker.

As Mary Grace's health deteriorates, her maturing accelerates. Each of the principal characters has to come to terms not only with impending loss, but with how this crisis reconfigures old patterns of family conflict and dependency. The story continues after her death as focus shifts to the father's grief, mourning, and new empathy with victims of accident and loss.

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The Distinguished Guest

Miller, Sue

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At the age of 72, Lily Maynard finds herself suddenly famous for a memoir she has published about the disintegration of her marriage years before at the height of the civil rights movement, the women's movements, and the religious shifts of the 1960's. The book brings two young women into her life: one a journalist who wants to do a story on her, the other an African-American historian who takes an interest in the connections between her personal history and the pressures of the civil rights conflicts.

Simultaneous with her cresting notoriety is an exacerbation of the Parkinson's disease which makes it necessary for Lily to move in temporarily with her son and his wife while awaiting a place in a retirement home. Half her face is paralyzed; she has difficulty feeding herself; and her extreme fatigue makes it hard to conduct interviews without dissolving into a fog of incommunicable feeling.

Each of the younger people involved in her life is driven to come to terms with his or her own life in new ways, especially her son, who finds complex feelings surfacing after years of emotional estrangement. Ultimately, her story told, Lily quietly exits the family before relocation to a home by committing suicide with an overdose of medication. In the aftermath Alan's grief gives him a new understanding of his mother's life and his own.

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I Know This Much is True

Lamb, Wally

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dominic Birdsey's identical twin, Thomas, is paranoid schizophrenic. With proper medication he can work at a coffee stand, but occasionally he has severe outbreaks. Thinking he is making a sacrificial protest that will stop the war in the Middle East, Thomas cuts off his own hand in a public library. Dominic sees him through the ensuing decision not to attempt to reattach the hand, and makes efforts on his behalf to free him from what he knows to be an inadequate and depressing hospital for the dangerous mentally ill.

In the process, Dominic reviews his own difficult life as Thomas's normal brother, his marriage to his ex-wife which ended after their only child died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and his ongoing hostility to his stepfather. First in Thomas's interests, and then for his own sake, he sees a gifted Indian woman employed by the hospital as therapist. She helps Dominic come to understand Thomas's illness and the family's accommodations or reactions to it in terms of the whole family system.

In the course of treatment, Dominic discovers sexual abuses taking place in the hospital and helps to expose the perpetrators. He succeeds in getting Thomas released, but Thomas soon commits suicide. After Thomas's death Dominic finds out about their birth father--a secret their mother had shared with Thomas, but not with him.

He also learns that the woman he has been seeing is HIV-positive. She asks him to keep her baby if she dies. At first he resists, but later, having found his way back into relationship with his wife, he takes the baby. The book ends with several healing events that leave Dominic able to cope with the considerable loss, failure, and sadness in his personal and family history.

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Sugar Isn't Everything

Roberts, Willo Davis

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eleven-year-old Amy has been hiding cookies beneath her bed, drinking gallons of liquid to slake her thirst, getting headaches, feeling irritable, and failing to grow though she's been eating huge meals for months by the time she faints and is taken to the hospital. There she is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Though she feels disoriented and angry, she is immediately put into a training group with other kids around her age who have been recently diagnosed.

She has to learn how to maintain a carefully balanced diet and how to give herself insulin injections. The male nurse who teaches them is himself a diabetic as well as a competent, cheerful young man who takes the edge off the experience. He makes it clear to Amy and the others that the primary responsibility for their health maintenance routines lies with them personally.

After release from the hospital, Amy begins to deal with the social adjustments her disease demands. Her brother and parents are helpful, but uncertain about how much to change their own eating habits to accommodate her. Her younger sister finds the accommodations trying and unfair. Amy's friends also have learning to do.

It helps her that she knows a few other diabetic kids, including Coby, a boy who has struggled with his own resentment and the consequences of sloppy monitoring of his condition, but has learned how to control his diet for the sake of staying on the baseball team where he's a star player. Their friendship helps Amy transition into "normal" life hopefully.

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Secret Numbers

Morris, Winifred

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story for Young Adults

Summary:

The narrator, who has been a counselor at a summer camp, brings a friend home to meet her computer-wizard older brother, Eric, but finds him acting very strange--overprotective, defensive, and aggressive. Later his inexplicable behavior shows up at the dinner table. He is unreceptive to parents' inquiries. Readers learn some of the delusional thoughts from italicized passages interspersed with the narrative of a family recognizing mental illness and making treatment decisions.

Eric is hospitalized after an episode in which he threatens the family with a kitchen knife. He is released on medication in a matter of weeks, but continues to behave strangely if not dangerously--he asks his sister at one point if she knows any "secret numbers"--and she realizes his new condition is not simply going to go away, but has opened a whole new chapter in family life and requires new and careful adaptations.

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The Great Mysterious

Landvik, Lorna

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Geneva Jordan, a successful stage actress in New York, reluctantly agrees to stay for a month with her thirteen-year-old nephew who has Down syndrome so that his parents can take a long-postponed and much-needed vacation. She is unmarried and has no children herself, has always found herself a little intimidated about close interaction with the boy, and leads a complicated personal and professional life in New York which the requisite month in Minnesota will interrupt.

Nevertheless, she takes on the job and gradually finds herself adapting to rural life, substitute parenthood, and the special needs of her nephew. She makes friends with the mother of Rich's best (and only real) friend, Conrad, who has cerebral palsy. After the month is over, she returns to New York, only to realize that her life lacks a dimension that caregiving gave it.

She also realizes she left a good man behind in Minnesota--a local divorced father who has become an unsought love interest. Nevertheless, she remains on stage and in the city until the death of her nephew's friend calls her back to Minnesota, and to the man with whom she can finally imagine taking on a family life of her own.

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