Showing 161 - 170 of 223 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn

Year of Wonders

Brooks, Geraldine

Last Updated: Aug-20-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this historical novel, Anna Frith, works as a servant in the household of the local minister. The story recounts the horrific events in a plague-ridden village of 17th-century England. Anna, having lost her young husband in a mining accident, loses both her sons to the plague, as well as a boarder in her household who seems to have been the first case in the village.

After these losses, she stays her grief by tending the sick in many families. Particularly after the village works out terms of quarantine with the earl, no help but food and supplies comes in from outside. She learns much from the local herbalists, two midwives whose work she carries on after their violent deaths. In this work she develops a close partnership with the pastor's wife.

The story takes us through the whole trajectory of loss, accusations, spiritual struggle, shared grief, creative adaptations, and eventually emergence from sickness and quarantine. Anna's own journey takes some surprising turns as her confidence and clarity about her own mission grow and deepen.

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Say Yes Quickly

O'Connor, Mary Bradish

Last Updated: Aug-07-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of poems chronicles moments of felt experience in the writer's life before and after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Starting with a memory of a carefree childhood lived in an era when streets were sanitized with DDT, and a poem entitled "The Body is the Repository of Memory," the poems move freely from close-ups of moments in the hospital or grieving at the waterside to wide-angle views of a life that has been and still is normal, worth living, pulsing, albeit a bit more irregularly, with creative energies.

Cumulatively the poems explore the paradox that illness (and a terminal prognosis) changes everything and also, but for the shadow it casts, changes very little. "Still," she writes in a final line, "my wild heart beats." The poems are interspersed with prose-poems that shift the focus toward the writer's reflections upon the project and circumstances of creating this "memory board"--a term borrowed from the Luba people of Africa, who bead boards that represent memories to pass on as visible legacies of lives they believe worthy of being remembered.

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Getting Near to Baby

Couloumbis, Audrey

Last Updated: May-08-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Willa Jo and her little sister have been sent to stay with their aunt after the sudden death of their baby sister. Their aunt found them and their mother living in general squalor in the days after the baby's death, the mother in a state of serious depression. Willa Jo, the eldest, tries to cooperate, though she misses her mother and finds her aunt overly controlling. Her little sister has responded to the baby's death by ceasing to speak, and Willa Jo has the added burden of trying to speak for her and shield her from the pressure others put on her to speak.

As the story opens, the two girls have climbed onto the roof one morning, and are staying there, much to the distress of the aunt and several neighbors. As she sits there surveying the landscape, Willa Jo reflects back on the weeks since the death, giving the reader in flashback a chronology that combines both tragic and comic moments of coping with trauma and change.

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We Are Nighttime Travelers

Canin, Ethan

Last Updated: Mar-05-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator, Frank, an aging man with cataracts, heart murmur, and diabetes, reflects on the life he now lives with Francine, his wife. They have been together 46 years and time, he muses, "has made torments of our small differences and tolerance of our passions." They know little of one another’s daily lives; he doesn’t even know what conditions her array of pills on the breakfast table are meant to treat. Frank has taken to reading poetry.

Francine claims she has been hearing an intruder outside the window at night. She finds poems on the window sill. She is mystified and a little frightened. At her request Frank stays up all night one night to watch for the romantic intruder. Midway through that night he takes her for a walk in the frozen street. When they return to bed, aching from their respective debilities, he turns to her for the first time in recent memory, holds her, and kisses her as he used to, clinging to her fingers, "bone and tendon, fragile things," knowing he will die soon, and that life can still surprise him.

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Remembering Mog

Rodowsky, Colby

Last Updated: Feb-08-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Annie, about to finish high school, is still struggling with the long-term grief and confusion that has changed her family life since her sister, Mog, was killed by a car thief just before her own high school graduation two years ago. Annie wants to talk about Mog, but her mother remains in insistent denial and turns away from any mention of her; her father is protective of her mother and keeps his own long silences; and her brother, eager to get on with life, is willing, but unable to sustain much of the kind of conversation that might help.

Mog’s boyfriend, who was with Mog on the night of the shooting and sustained an injury but survived, offers one source of help in Annie’s process of emerging from grief, but the help becomes confused with romantic attentions that eventually, with the help of a therapist, Mog realizes she needs gently to renounce. Her belated decision to see a therapist comes at the suggestion of a friend’s mother who sees how stuck the family is in their evasions of the grief process. She initiates the visits on her own steam, with the approval of her rather passive but supportive father, and with a rather tense policy of noninterference from her mother.

Eventually, as Annie starts college, she finds herself able to move along toward remembering Mog and speaking about her freely while also reclaiming her own life and ambitions without guilt for leaving her sister "behind." Her father assures her that her mother will "be alright." In the meantime, Annie realizes not everyone has to heal the same way, and she has, with help, found a way that works for her.

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Rain Man

Cruise, Tom; Levinson, Barry; Hoffman, Dustin

Last Updated: Dec-17-2001
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), a young businessman aggressively pursuing his fortune in collector automobiles, hears that the wealthy father from whom he has been estranged for years, has died. He attends the funeral planning to remain only long enough to hear the will and receive the fortune he believes is coming to him. He is shocked to learn that most of the fortune has been left in trust to someone whose name is not disclosed. Investigations lead him to a home for the mentally handicapped where he discovers he has a brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant, who has been housed there since Charlie's early childhood.

Charlie kidnaps him, planning to keep him "hostage" until the institution delivers the half of Raymond's inheritance he believes rightly to be his. On the road, two things happen: 1) he is baffled, angered, and confused by the paradoxical behavior of this genius with no emotional vocabulary and no social skills and 2) he uncovers early memories of Raymond as the "Rain man" who comforted him when he was very small. He takes Raymond to Las Vegas to exploit his card-counting skills, wins enough at blackjack to get kicked out of the casino, and ends up calling Raymond's guardian out to California, hoping to be entrusted with his guardianship.

He is finally convinced, however, that Raymond is indeed incapable of progressing in relationship much beyond where he is, and that he, Charlie, is not sufficiently equipped to care for him. He sends him back to the institution, committed to maintaining relationship not for the money, but for its own sake. Mystified as he is by the brother whose humanity he can't quite fathom, something like love has been awakened in him in the course of his painful journey in caregiving.

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Summary:

This varied collection of short stories and poems is unified not so much by theme as by their appropriateness to the intended listening audience--the bedridden or homebound elderly. In a brief but moving preface editor Carolyn Banks recalls her work in an adult day care center where she was expected to entertain those who were recovering from strokes or suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Reading aloud provided sometimes startling moments of contact with patients who were incapable of sustained conversation. Banks realized that while there are many story collections for children and general adult audiences, no one had done a collection for a group with these specific needs.

The collection includes 52 stories--one a week for a year--that cover a range of life situations. Not all focus on age or illness, though some do. In several a grandparent plays a crucial role in a grandchild's life. Some are set in the 1930's, 40's and 50's--periods likely to trigger memories for those now in their 70's and 80's.

Several stories focus on situations of widowhood and other losses, and some on death: Banks insists that death "is not a taboo topic." Many of the stories are comic, since, she comments, laughter is "an important response to court." All are short enough to read in a half hour or less, and "not insultingly simple."

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Motivated at first by an attachment to her strict and demanding ballet teacher, as well as frustration and disgust with her own body compared to other dancers', Francesca develops an obsession with weight loss and increasingly ritualized forms of self-discipline in eating and exercise that lead to severe anorexia nervosa. It takes her family several months to see and acknowledge what is happening in front of them, during which she has trained herself to eat less and less, to throw up after meals, and to push herself to the point of exhaustion.

She becomes secretive, isolates herself from friends, and puts up a wall between herself and her parents, who are unable fully to understand the degree to which her behavior has gone beyond her control, but are worried. A compassionate male therapist with clear boundaries and a non-judgmental approach finally succeeds in disengaging Francesca from the mutually destructive downward spiral of family conflict around her illness;

he helps her to envision and desire her own health and to take responsibility for recovery. The story is told in the third person, but from Francesca's point of view.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Katie is a promising figure skater whose divorced mother drives her relentlessly to perfect her skills, at almost any expense. What her mother and coach don't know, but her English teacher begins to figure out, is that when Katie gets to an emotional edge, she hides and cuts herself; the pain and blood help focus her mind. Not until she goes over that edge one day at school and begins slamming her locker door on her hand and then banging her head on the wall does she begin to get the professional help she needs.

After a couple of false starts, she finds a psychiatrist experienced in working with teens in trouble who enables her to tell truths she hasn't for years been able to admit to herself or speak of to anyone else. Her mother resists other adults' help and almost succeeds in getting her out of therapy, especially group therapy with girls her mother labels "delinquents." But Katie finally manages to make some choices against her mother's wishes--an immense step out of the depths of years of co-dependence.

As the story ends, she has come to realize the girls in the group are capable of being real friends--something she hasn't had for a long while--and she is capable of making choices toward her own healing, the first of which is to seek and accept real help and to distinguish it from pleasing adults who are using her to assuage their own pain.

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Fine?

Haddix, Margaret Peterson

Last Updated: Aug-13-2001
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story for Young Adults

Summary:

The story begins as an MRI technician assures Baily that "Contrary to popular opinion, . . . this is not a torture device." The test was ordered because her arm suddenly went numb and she suddenly lost most of her vision during algebra class. With no idea what's wrong, Baily speculates about the possibility of a brain tumor, about how disease will change her life, about early death. She is uncomfortable with her mother's cheery reassurances, which consist mostly of simple theories like the possibility that Baily was reacting to missing lunch, but wants them, nonetheless.

Since the pediatric wing is full, she is put in a room with an old woman for observation overnight. The nurse runs her through a series of highly irrelevant questions about her physical health from drug use to dentures. Then her mother is required to leave for the night. In the morning they take her for an EKG before her mother can get there; Baily returns to her room in a state of morbid conviction that she's dying, which is finally overturned when the doctor comes in to explain to her that she had a classic case of severe migraine.

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