Showing 161 - 170 of 227 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn

Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator's father is in the hospital awaiting surgery that might be his last. She and her sister have been coming to the hospital regularly during his prolonged stay, and have become familiar with the cast of characters there, including an old man in a state of dementia who wanders the halls asking directions. The narrator reflects on her family, what can be spoken of and what can't, the different reactions they have to hospital regulations, crisis, impending loss.

She longs to tell her father she loves him, but is constrained by family reserve. As the family gathers at his bed before the surgery, she comes to realize some things will never be fully expressed, but must remain implicit. The unspoken is part of the loss she recognizes as she faces her father's death.

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Forged by Fire

Draper, Sharon

Last Updated: Jan-24-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

When Gerald is three, his mother, a drug addict, leaves him alone one time too often and he accidentally sets the apartment on fire. His mother is imprisoned for negligence, he goes to the hospital, and thereafter lives with "Aunt Queen," a great-aunt who exercises considerable authority from her wheelchair, and gives him all the love his mother hasn't.

When he is 9, however, his mother returns with a new sister and a man who claims to be the sister's father. They want to take him "home"; Gerald wants to stay with Aunt Queen. The matter is settled unhappily when Aunt Queen dies of a heart attack.

Gerald soon learns to despise his stepfather for his violence and, eventually, for the abuse of his half sister, which she hides out of fear until she's driven to confess it to Gerald in hope of his protection. Their mother remains in denial about that problem as well as her own and her husband's addictions to alcohol and drugs.

Caring for his sister, however, keeps love in Gerald's life. In defending her one last time, the apartment catches fire and his stepfather is killed. As he, his sister, and his mother ride away in the ambulance, a flicker of hope survives in the darkness for another new chapter in family life, this time without violence.

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Standing by Thistles

MacLeod, Anne

Last Updated: Aug-28-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The poems in this collection, written by a dermatologist, are not specifically about medicine or medical issues. Threading through them, however, is a sensibility that sees both the natural world and human relationships in terms of the great cycle of awakenings, rising passions, complex relationships, change, aging, and death. Many, though few run more than a page, have a narrative thrust; they offer windows on ordinary life that tie the particulars of events and encounters to large, seasonal, mythic rhythms and stories.

History is present in many poems, in the character of Persephone, for instance, in lacings of Gaelic language, in allusions to old stones and fires and (in the final long poem) to the historical Macbeth, immortalized inaccurately. Natural objects--bird songs, dolphins, nettles, an old pear tree--feature largely as anchoring images of poems that move gracefully from memories to metaphors, linking life observed with interior life lived alertly by a poet who plumbs small experiences for cosmic connections.

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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

Levinson, Barry; Cruise, Tom; 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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