Showing 161 - 170 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

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Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In four lengthy chapters, the biographies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert are carefully presented. Special attention is given to health, both physical and psychological, throughout life and at its end. Autopsy information is included. In particular, the author emphasizes the impact of illness on the composers' relationships with family members and doctors, and on their musical composition.

Evidence is derived from a wealth of primary sources, often with long citations from letters, poetry, musical scores, prescriptions, diaries, the remarkable "chat books" of Beethoven. Neumayr also takes on the host of other medical biographers who have preceded him in trying to retrospectively 'diagnose' these immortal dead.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Vienna emerges as a remarkable city of musical innovation and clinical medicine. The composers' encounters with each other link these biographies. Similarly, many patrons, be they aristocrats or physicians, appear in more than one chapter, such as the Esterhazy family and Dr Anton Mesmer.

The disease concepts of the era, prevalent infections, and preferred therapies are treated with respect. Rigid public health rules in Vienna concerning burial practices meant that ceremonies could not take place in cemeteries and may explain why some unusual information is available and why other seemingly simple facts are lost.

Biographical information about the treating physicians is also given, together with a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index of specific works of music cited.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

A stern, old doctor (Victor Sjostrom) is preparing to travel by car to Lund to receive an honorary degree. He has a disquieting dream in which he perceives his own death as the frightening, lonely end to a hollow existence. In the morning, his gruff demeanor is considerably altered by the intimations of mortality. His daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), who has inexplicably been visiting, decides to accompany him to Lund. En route they encounter a trio of mirthful teenagers, a bickering married couple, and grateful patients. They also visit the doctor's mother.

The dream and the journey unleash a recurring flood of memories of youthful summers at the family home among the wild strawberries and of his unrequited love for a beautiful cousin. He learns that his daughter-in-law is pregnant, but his only son is about to repeat his mistakes by rejecting an emotional bond with his wife and his future child in the empty pursuit of professional achievement. The pregnancy is the reason she left her husband to visit his father. At the end, the doctor establishes a small but real rapport with his son and achieves a degree of understanding about his own life.

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Summary:

What will the members of an isolated community do to attract a doctor? What won't they do? Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne is a microscopic fishing village on the rocky north shore of Quebec, just where it meets Labrador.

The fishery is declining, people are leaving, and the welfare payments, doled out by the pretty postmistress, Eve (Lucie Laurier), are humiliating. Ste Marie wants to diversify. All it needs to attract a plastic-bottle factory is a bribe of $50,000 and a doctor. They get a lucky break when a Montreal cop, who hails from Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne, stops the speeding plastic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin), on his way home from a cricket match.

Now, the village has one month to convince the worldly young man that he wants to stay forever. The mayor, Germain (Raymond Bouchard), and several friends set out to make Dr. Lewis feel as welcome as possible. They embark on a collective effort to teach the francophone fishers how to play cricket. They flood the clinic with bogus ailments, they take Lewis fishing, they charm him with five dollar bills left nightly by a garden gnome, they force themselves to listen to incomprehensible jazz, and they bug the doctor's telephone to ascertain his tastes and commitments, broadcasting the intimate details of his faltering relationship with sultry Brigitte back in Montreal.

Eventually, Dr Lewis splits up with Brigitte, because she has been "dishonest" and he chooses to stay in Ste Marie because they are "genuine." The crisis arises near the end, when the townspeople realize that in order to keep Dr. Lewis for any time at all, they must own up to the charade of deception and offer to let him go.

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The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

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Sweet Thames

Kneale, Matthew

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The young and upwardly mobile engineer, Joshua Jeavons, is obsessed with finding a solution to the water problems of 19th-century London. He spends almost every spare moment drawing and re-drawing maps of his precious drainage plans destined to save the city from the stench of effluent, which everyone believes is the source of cholera. His boss, Augustus Moynahan, is unimpressed with Joshua's plans, but allows him to continue analyzing sewers and drains. They work in conjunction with a master plan of coercive bureaucrats, led by Edwin Sleak Cunningham and manipulated by private interest.

Joshua has married the boss's daughter, Isobella, who had seemed more than eager to have him over her father's objections; however, she rebuffs all his physical attentions and the marriage is unconsummated. Brimming with sexual need and self-pity, Joshua continues a sporadic liaison with a friendly prostitute, all the while resenting what he decides must be his wife's infidelity.

When Isobella vanishes on the night of a disastrous dinner party, Joshua's fortunes plummet. He is reduced to poverty and shame, as he replaces his first obsession with the quest for his lost spouse--to reclaim her or kill her, he knows not. But his contact with urchins and beggars brings him to discover the real causes of pollution and disease--both environmental and moral.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leo comes back to sell off the run-down family farm on the Italian coast of Tuscany, hoping for enough to finance his return to Chicago. He is plagued by memories. A tour bus is lured into Santo Fico--by ruse or by accident--and once the British visitors are safely ensconced in the hotel restaurant, Leo and his old friend Topo launch into the lucrative scam that they invented as boys: storytelling to "sell" a viewing of treasures inside the local church.

The "miracle" is the stump of an ancient fig tree that once sheltered St Francis; and the "mystery" a luminous fresco by an anonymous artist, possibly Giotto. Leo is encouraged by his dramatic success. But in the night, an earthquake severely damages the church. Yielding to temptation, Leo "saves" the fresco by stealing it in large chunks and hiding it under his bed. Surely now he will have enough money to escape.

The old priest is grievously saddened and goes on a hunger strike to expiate his own sins, on which he blames the desecration. The priest is cared for by his niece, Marta. Embittered by her late husband's infidelity and early death, she frets over her two daughters: one dutiful but blind; the other healthy but headstrong. Marta already resents Leo for some transgression in their past; rightly guessing his crime, she demands that he "make a miracle" for the priest.

Topo and Leo invent several, ambitious but preposterous scenarios, each of which flops spectacularly. The priest good-naturedly overlooks (or fails to see) their transparent ploys; yet he manages to perceive miracles everywhere else in the everyday atmosphere of his beloved village. Of course, Leo returns the fresco, of course he stays, and of course he finds love with Marta after all.

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The Waters of Thirst

Mars-Jones, Adam

Last Updated: Jun-14-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Just as the new plague that will eventually become known as AIDS begins to exact its toll on the gay community, William and Terry slide somewhat unintentionally into a committed relationship, complete with a dog. Terry has issues with the modest size of his penis; being "married" absolves him from performance anxiety.

Almost equally furtive, William has inherited polycystic kidney disease from his mother and is on dialysis, with the severe dietary restrictions and merciless thirst that it entails. William professes to Terry that size doesn't matter, but he indulges in elaborate fantasies about Peter Hunter, a well-endowed star of porn magazines; he becomes an obsessive collector of Hunter's work.

Terry and William are insulated by their singular bond from the havoc of AIDS, but William finds himself compelled to hunt the stigmata of that disease in photos of the exposed and hidden portions of Hunter's anatomy. When he realizes that motorbike riders are prone to becoming organ donors, he cultivates a fascination with their behavior and their machines, following them in his car and tracking statistics. Finally, a matched biker kidney is found for William, but the immunosuppressive drugs, which are given to help him tolerate the transplant, make him very ill. He is admitted with opportunistic pneumonia, ironically, to an AIDS ward.

More than once William says, "I went to sleep next to someone I knew and I woke side by side with a stranger," The book closes with a surreal dream-like sequence, as William takes leave of his lover. It could be continued life, readjusted by this brush with mortality toward a bold new freedom. On the other hand, it could be death itself, and the story suddenly becomes the memoir of a ghost.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darin) is a 42 year-old, divorced, father who runs the restaurant that his parents established nearly fifty years ago. His father, Nino (Héctor Alterio), is mostly retired and makes daily visits to the hospital where his wife, Norma (Norma Aleandro), has been placed for her Alzheimer's disease. Avoiding the horror, Rafael has not seen her in a year.

Guilt for having dropped out of law school drives him to prove himself by making the business a success; he defiantly resists offers to sell. But his finances are a mess, his temper thin, and his relationships strained; he works too hard, sleeps too little, and drinks and smokes too much. Inevitably, Rafael has a massive heart attack and spends 15 days in ICU (Intensive Care Unit).

This intimation of mortality convinces him to change his life, sell his restaurant, and open his heart to the needs and worth of the people around him. He agrees to help his atheist father fulfill a romantic wish to finally marry the still beautiful but grievously departed Norma in a church, something she had long desired and he had always refused for his "principles." The priest declines the request because of Norma's disease, but an engaging solution is found.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The now famed American poetess, Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, England in 1956. Angered over a stinging review of her work by the literary roué Ted Hughes (Dennis Craig), she is then charmed by his poetry and blatantly sets out to seduce him. They marry soon after.

Sylvia had tried to commit suicide several times in her youth. Recalling one terrifying near miss, her cold-seeming mother resents Hughes, sensing the power in passionate love to harm her fragile, brilliant daughter. The initially torrid life that Ted and Sylvia share in both America and in rural Britain, grows tired through the strain of two children, her lack of joy in teaching, and his greater poetic success, all of which seem to stifle her creativity.

It ends because of his chronic infidelities, reduced in this version to a committed affair with a mutual friend, the thrice-married, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), who becomes pregnant. Rage, jealousy, and depression become Sylvia’s muse. The more she suffers with Hughes, the more productive and poignant is her work. Unable to lure him back, she leaves buttered bread and milk for her children, seals the kitchen, and gasses herself to death.

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After the Plague

Boyle, T. Coraghessan

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Francis (aka "Jed") tells how he went off into the Sierra mountains for a few weeks of peace in order to write a novel and accidentally left his world behind. Fragmented radio reports hint that a catastrophe is brewing; appeals to avoid panic splutter to a silent stop. A trip to the nearest gas station confirms his impression that an Ebola-like epidemic must have wiped out most of the people of America. He worries about friends and family, but he worries too about himself and decides to stay put with his large cache of food.

Soon, wiry Sarai storms out of the wilderness demanding help. She has lost her hiking companion and refuses to believe in the full extent of the horror. They return to a city trying to build a life, but they dislike each other too much. They and other scattered survivors dwell in whatever house and drive whatever vehicle they choose; they avoid rotting corpses and each other, furtively taking what they need from shops and leaving the aisles undisturbed. Francis finds a compatible companion in Felicia and they engage in a polite, easy courtship. Their peace is disturbed by the rantings of Sarai, until they are saved by a survivor ex machina.

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