Showing 161 - 170 of 569 annotations in the genre "Novel"

Bringing Vincent Home

Mysko, Madeleine

Last Updated: Jan-27-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Within the first few pages of this novel, the reader is thrust into the midst of a family--their past history, their present tragedy, and their future healing.  Kitty Duvall, a middle-aged woman living in Baltimore, Maryland, receives a phone call informing her that her son, soldier Vincent Duvall, has been injured in Viet Nam and now lies, severely burned, in the Intensive Care Unit of Brooke Army Medical Center.  Kitty packs her bags and rushes to his bedside.  Thus begins this straight forward and yet complex story, one that weaves between past and present, one that examines the lives of caregivers, especially nurses; the lives of patients, particularly those young men and women sacrificed to war; and the lives of the parents who must, as Kitty does, find their places alongside their dying or healing children, always wondering how best to help them. 

Although this book is a novel, it reads like a memoir.  Indeed, the events of the novel seem so right and so accurate because the author served as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps at Brooke Army Medical Center during the Vietnam War.  Her own experience as a nurse, her own memories of the burned and wounded men, inform this novel and bring to it an accuracy and an urgency that takes the reader behind the scenes into unforgettable images of war and recovery.  Although set in the Vietnam era, this story is especially relevant today, when once again soldiers and their families must deal with the physical and emotional wages of battle.

 

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Unwanted Inheritance

Bolin, Robert

Last Updated: Dec-27-2007
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ann, the primary protagonist, is diagnosed with and operated on for breast cancer. Her family history leads her to suspect that she may have passed the breast cancer gene on to her daughters-this assertion without having been tested. She retreats from society. Her husband leaves her and she raises two daughters, ever plagued with guilt. The two daughters, as technology advances, choose to have themselves tested. One daughter, tests positive for BRCA-2; the second daughter is not tested, but is diagnosed with breast cancer.

The mystery becomes: from which parent did the women inherit the gene? While the younger daughter struggles with her progressive cancer, the older daughter goes in search of the genetic contributor. Since this becomes a search for an answer, the answer remains up to the reader to pursue. The angst created by the unanswered questions makes up the bulk of the intrigue, and may emulate real life struggles with this particular disease.

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Moby-Dick

Melville, Herman

Last Updated: Dec-11-2007
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

After deciding that it's time for him to get back to sea, Ishmael arrives in New Bedford, Massachussets, in search of adventure. At the Spouter Inn, he befriends his bed-mate, the harpooner Queequeg, and they travel to Nantucket. Here, they sign up for the Pequod, and on Christmas Day, set off on a three year voyage hunting whales for their oil. After several days at sea, the captain emerges from his cabin to enlist his crew into joining him in his pursuit of Moby Dick, the white whale that "dismasted" him.

Simmering with rage, Captain Ahab leads his crew across the oceans, with the help of his stoical and ethical quaker First Mate, Starbuck, and the cheerful Second Mate Stubb. The crew encounter other ships at sea, hunt sperm and right whales, and process the blubber for oil as they get closer and closer to the final confrontation between two of the great forces in American literature: the human will of Captain Ahab and the natural power of an untamed whale.

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The Fruit of the Tree

Wharton, Edith

Last Updated: Oct-29-2007
Annotated by:
Garden, Rebecca

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel opens with a young surgical nurse, Justine Brent, nursing a mill worker whose arm has been mangled by a carding machine. She soon meets John Amherst, the mill’s assistant manager who works passionately to reform the dangerous conditions at the mill and to improve the living conditions of the workers. Amherst recognizes Justine’s intelligence and sympathy, but he quickly forgets about her when he meets and falls in love with the new mill owner, Bessy Langhope.

The narrative skips ahead three years. John Amherst has learned that his now-wife Bessy has no real interest in his plan to reform the mill, although she initially appeared to be moved by the workers’ misery. In fact, her insistence on luxury, which is funded by the profit from the mills, thwarts his desire to use her controlling interest to make significant changes. The couple encounters Justine, who knew Bessy in school. When the somewhat sickly Bessy invites her to be a private nurse to herself and her stepdaughter, Justine, who is exhausted from “difficult cases,” accepts. Justine attempts to shore up John and Bessy’s increasingly troubled marriage without success. When John is abroad, Bessy has an accident while riding her horse. Paralyzed, in constant pain, and slowly dying, Bessy is attended by a physician who advances his career with the technological feat of keeping Bessy alive, ostensibly until her husband and her father arrive to say their goodbyes. When Bessy begs Justine to let her die, Justine secretly gives her a fatal dose of morphine, an act that the physician suspects.

The narrative skips ahead again to over a year later when Amherst, who has inherited the mills from Bessy, invites her family to celebrate the opening of an emergency hospital he has built in the mill town. Justine, who had stayed on after Bessy’s death as her stepdaughter’s nurse, and Amherst become reacquainted. Their shared social and intellectual interests develop into love, and they marry. The physician who had cared for Bessy and who had, earlier, asked Justine to marry him, had developed an addiction, one that had begun while he was treating Bessy. Beginning to sink into financial ruin, he blackmails Justine. Eventually, Amherst finds out that Justine killed Bessie with morphine and, horrified, rejects her.

Justine confesses her act to Bessy’s father and negotiates a deal: She will remove herself from their lives if he allows Amherst to continue his work at the mills. Bessy’s father accepts the deal, and Justine disappears for many months until Bessy’s daughter becomes ill and begs to be reunited with Justine. A family friend explains to Amherst Justine’s arrangement to protect him and convinces him that she has suffered suitable penance. Justine is reunited with Amherst when he celebrates the opening of a gymnasium for the mill workers, a project he credits Bessy with having designed. Justine, who knows that Bessy had in fact designed the gymnasium for her private estate, a project that would have drained the funds for improving the mills, keeps silent and subverts her knowledge to her husband’s perception of the facts.

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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Danticat, Edwidge

Last Updated: Oct-07-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sophie, who has lived with her aunt in Haiti for the 12 years since her birth is being sent to live with her mother in New York. She leaves her aunt and grandmother amid a riot at the airport, and arrives in New York to meet her mother and her mother's long-term lover. Her mother has frequent nightmares, related, as it turns out, to the rape that eventuated in the birth of Sophie. Sophie's mother insists that the only road out of poverty is to study hard; she wants Sophie to become a doctor, and jealously oversees her work and protects her virginity, frequently testing her to make sure she has not been sexually active.

Eventually Sophie elopes with a kind musician, Joseph, but finds herself unable to enjoy sex. She returns to Haiti with their baby while he is on tour, and finds refuge among the women who raised her, though they themselves suffer various effects of poverty, alcohol, and violence. Sophie's mother flies to Haiti to be reconciled with her and takes her back to New York where the two women and their partners briefly share peace and kindness. But when Sophie's mother finds she is pregnant, she begins to have the nightmares about rape again, and kills herself. Sophie and the mother's lover fly to Haiti for the burial. Sophie runs away from the gravesite into the fields where her mother was raped, and attacks the cane stalks in fury, frustration, and a final cathartic gesture of self-liberation from a painful past.

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The Twilight Years

Ariyoshi, Sawako

Last Updated: Sep-12-2007
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This story is set in early nineteen-seventies Tokyo. The point of view is that of Akiko, a working wife and mother of a teenaged son. Her aged parents-in-law live in a cottage next door, but when her mother-in-law suddenly dies of a stroke, Akiko becomes the sole caregiver for her selfish father-in-law Shegezo. As he slides into senile dementia Akiko moves him into her own home, where she almost succumbs to exhaustion and the loss of her independence and career. Ariyoshi's message is clear: society needs to help middle-class families care for elderly relatives.

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Becoming Chloe

Hyde, Catherine

Last Updated: Aug-10-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jordy, 17, gay, abused by his parents, has taken refuge in a New York basement from where, one night, he witnesses the brutal gang rape of a young 18-year-old. After his shouted threats scare off the attackers, the girl slips through the window into what turn out to be shared quarters. The two begin to take care of each other; she insists on his getting treatment for head wounds at a public clinic (where care is distiinctly substandard) and he becomes guardian to this young woman whose history of abuse has left her in a curious state of social alienation and innocence about what is normal. The story becomes a kind of vision quest when, faced with "Chloe's" (a name she gives herself by way of starting over) inclination to put herself in harm's way, and to flirt with suicide, Jordy decides to prove to her that the world is more beautiful than it is threatening and ugly.

They acquire an old truck and embark on a cross-country journey that becomes a picaresque series of encounters, most of them with helpful, kind people, one notably disastrous, with three young men who threaten Chloe and land Jordy in the hospital after a fight. The trip terminates in Big Sur on the California coast where Chloe's dream of riding horses on the beach is fulfilled with most of Jordy's remaining cash. The pilgrimage leaves them with a sense of hope which each of them communicates to the New York therapist who briefly helped them, in letters that end the book.

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A Good Death

Courtemanche, Gil

Last Updated: Aug-02-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A French Canadian family gathers for Christmas around the ailing patriarch and his quiet wife. But it is dominated by anxiety over the father’s rigid Parkinson’s disease and a recent stroke that have robbed him of clear speech and movement.

Through the eyes of the son who is nearing sixty, the holiday is a painful obligation that must be endured; the toxic atmosphere contains an undeclared emergency. The son admits that he has never loved his father whom he compares to Stalin for his iron-fisted and undemonstrative ways. One of the dad’s greatest sins was stealing credit for the catch of a giant fish that had actually been landed by the son long ago.

Nor does the narrator like his siblings to whom he refers in epithets that convey his disparagement of their proclivities: the Banker, the Vegetarian, the Homeopath, the Medicals, the Buddhists. His young nephew – who has two names—William / Sam—genuinely cares for the feelings and well-being of others, especially the grandparents. The only other person who is granted these qualities is Isabelle, the much younger fiancée of the narrator, in whom he takes possessive pride, as if she exemplifies his own wisdom, taste, and youth.

Suddenly the narrator and William both realize that the patriarch ought to die and that they should help. To the horror of the siblings and with the blessing of his mother they embark on a plan to feed him everything he likes but should not have—and lots of it. Perversely the man improves. The story culminates in a fishing trip where the original sin was committed.

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When the Emperor Was Divine

Otsuka, Julie

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family’s internment during World War II. They are living comfortably in Berkeley, California, when their nightmare begins. Soon after Pearl Harbor the husband/father is arrested by the FBI--taken away in his housecoat and slippers. We learn of this through the narration of the eight-year-old son, his ten-year-old sister, and their mother--who are rounded up several months later and sent to a camp in Utah. The father remains shadowy--a figure of memory, wishful thinking, and censored letters stamped "Detained Alien Enemy Mail." The reason for his arrest is never explained, as if there is no reason to question the man’s loyalty.

After her husband’s arrest, the mother is left to take care of her children and the house. A few months later she must pack up the household belongings, give away the family cat, kill and bury the family dog, tell her daughter to let loose the pet macaw. They are allowed to bring with them--where to they do not know--only what they can carry. They take an endless train ride through the Nevada desert to reach an internment camp in Utah, "a city of tar-paper barracks behind a barbed-wire fence on a dusty alkaline plane high up in the desert" (49).

Here they remain until the war ends, some three and a half years later. They learn to live in one room with a single light bulb; to stand on line for everything; to eat in the mess hall; to avoid rattlesnakes, scorpions, and the sun; and to "never say the Emperor’s name out loud" (52). They are unable to avoid the desert dust that covers and gets into everything. The children attend makeshift classes, play cards, are bored, lonely, and confused. The boy misses and has fantasies about his father, the girl reaches adolescence and becomes cynical, the mother is too depressed to eat or read.

At the end of the war, the three are allowed to go home "with train fare and twenty-five dollars in cash" (117). Their house has been vandalized; neighbors, teachers, and classmates either ignore them or are openly hostile. Finally their father is released from detention in New Mexico, a changed man both in appearance and spirit.

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Memoirs of Hadrian

Yourcenar, Marguerite

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Memoirs of Hadrian is a historical novel in the form of a long letter written by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to his young friend and eventual successor, Marcus Aurelius. Alas, Hadrian is "growing old, and is about to die of a dropsical heart." The Emperor begins by describing his recent visit with his physician Hermogenes, who "was alarmed, in spite of himself, at the rapid progress of the disease" (3). In light of his physical deterioration, Hadrian begins to reflect on his life and work, and to share his wisdom with his young correspondent.

Hadrian tells of his early life as the protégé of the Emperor Trajan, his military and political victories, and his eventual adoption by Trajan, a move that guaranteed the succession when his adoptive father died. While Trajan, whose victories brought the Roman Empire to its greatest size, was a military man to the core, Hadrian considers himself essentially peace loving--his personal life devoted to simplicity and harmony; and his public life to prosperity and justice. Nonetheless, he has always recognized that, in order to govern effectively, ruthless action is sometimes required.

Hadrian's marriage to the Empress Sabina was simply a matter of convenience. The love of his life was a beautiful young man named Antinous. The two men were deeply committed to one another, but at the same time the middle-aged emperor had "a certain dread of bondage" ( 177) that kept him from fully giving himself to Antinous with the abandon of youth. They were visiting Alexandria when the despondent Antinous committed suicide in a way that mimicked a religious ritual, essentially sacrificing himself to the deified Emperor.

Hadrian was crushed with grief and descended into a long period of depression. However, he eventually overcame his depression through his love of literature and ideas, as well as his sense of duty to the Empire (no SSRIs being available at the time), although not before attempting to enlist his physician in assisted suicide. Unable to refuse his emperor's request, the physician himself commits suicide rather than violating his Hippocratic Oath.

Hadrian's final military engagements involve crushing Jewish insurgents in Palestine, completing the destruction of Jerusalem, and founding a new Roman city on its site. The aged Emperor reflects frequently on his tolerance for all religions, except for politically disruptive fanatics like the followers of a Jewish prophet called Christ. As to the Jews in Palestine, he cannot understand why they continue to engage in self-destructive rebellion, most recently with Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva as their leaders.

In his final years Hadrian adopts Lucius, one of his former lovers (in this account), as his son and heir, but Lucius soon dies, presumably from tuberculosis. Eventually, the Emperor adopts Antinous Pius as his heir and further arranges for Marcus Aurelius to succeed Antinous Pius. At the end of his letter, Hadrian writes, "I could now return to Tibur, going back to that retreat which is called illness, to experiment with my suffering, to taste fully what delights are left to me, and to resume in peace my interrupted dialogue with a shade." [i.e. Antinous, his lost love (271)].

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