Showing 161 - 170 of 565 annotations in the genre "Novel"

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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Sutton's Law

Orient, Jane; Wright, Linda

Last Updated: Jun-28-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Intern, Maggie Altman, begins her postgraduate training in a large Texas hospital where a new computerized system has been implemented to improve service. She pours heart and soul into her work, but her admissions always seem to be the sickest patients who keep dying, sometimes inexplicably. Maggie becomes suspicious of her colleagues and of Dr. Milton Silber, an irrascible, retired clinician with no fondness for the new technology. Silber also happens to be a financial genius. Overhearing conversations and finding puzzling papers, Maggie imagines a scam, in which her supervisors may be eliminating dying patients to reduce costs, improve statistics, and siphon funds to their own pockets.

The bad outcomes for Maggie's patients are noticed and criticized, and she is pressured to drop out, switch hospitals, or go back into research. She senses that the perpetrators are aware of her suspicions and send her the worst patients in an effort to eliminate her. She trusts no one. These worries are compounded by her own illness and her accidental discovery in the morgue of a traffic in unclaimed bodies. With the help of excellent clinical skills, true friends, Dr. Silber, and a new love interest who is a budding financial genius, she survives physical and emotional violence and solves the mystery of patient homicides, poisonings, and fraud.

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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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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A group of eight women gather for a joint consultation with Dr. Kailey Madrona who is a devotée and colleague of the research endocrinologist, Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a professor at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Madrona explains that she has arranged for the unorthodox group encounter because she will be leaving practice to pursue graduate studies in medical history.

Dr. Madrona leads an open-ended discussion on the physiological changes associated with perimenopause. Following the controversial research of Prior, she emphasizes that the symptoms are owing to the unbalanced rise in estrogen levels during perimenopause—a period leading up to the cessation of menstruation and continuing for twelve months after the last flow.

Some women patients are skeptical, because they have been placed on estrogen ‘replacement” medication, or they have read that their symptoms are owing to the waning of estrogen. The doctor describes the results of various trials about supplmentary estrogen, including the 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association report. She invites them to keep detailed diaries of their cycles and symptoms.

One by one the women return for private consultation, physical examination, discussion and another follow up visit. Although they have reached roughly the same physiological moment in life, they are a diverse group with different symptoms and needs. Darlene, an angry nurse, is suspicious and non-compliant. Beverley, an Asian immigrant is still hoping to become pregnant. A lesbian wishes to control her moods and hot flashes. A very hard-working waitress needs to understand her strange lack of energy. A wiry, lean athelete wants to improve her performance and is irritated by the inexplicable alterations in her abilities. Others are plagued by sweats, nausea, or migraines. They all are confused about sex.

Dr. Madrona listens to them carefully, examines them with special attention to their breasts, not their genitalia, and recommends treatment with progesterone for everyone. She also urges weight gain for most and readily volunteers personal information about her own perimenopause. All but the nurse eventually comply and are relieved of their symptoms. At the end of a year they meet for a pot-luck dinner to celebrate their recovered health and thank their doctor. Beverley is pregrant.

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The Fisherman's Son

Köepf, Michael

Last Updated: May-22-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel of a commercial fisherman's family centers on the son, Neil Kruger, as he struggles to survive on a life raft after a comber, a huge wave, sinks his boat. The book combines his memories of growing up at Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco--the harsh lessons of the sea, his laconic father Ernie, and a disintegrating family--with the story of the illegal activities that led to this last run and his efforts to live.

Death is ever-present for fishermen. Throughout the book, the intimate killing of fish caught one by one is juxtaposed with the constant threat of human loss due to wind, storm, fog, rock, cold and waves. It is a hard-scrabble existence, as over-fishing, pollution, and price control by a few influential merchants combine to depress the fishing business.

As a boy, Neil is told by his mother not to become a fisherman. But then it is she who commands him to join his father one night. This conflict of loyalties, to the land and the sea, to his mother and his father, to religion with its hope of divine intervention and nature with its insensate brutality, cause a tension in Neil that leads him to reflect on his roles as dutiful son, eldest brother and future fisherman.

Neil's memories contain many traumatic events: the rescue of survivors from a hospital ship sunk in a collision with a tanker, the immigration tales of the tightly knit group of Half Moon Bay fishermen, the attempted rescue of one of these men during a storm, and the misadventure during a fishing escapade with his friends, including a wheelchair bound boy with polio. In addition, Neil recalls his father's worsening debility and subsequent post-operative and post-anesthetic problems. By the end of the book, the time frame of Neil's memories converges with his current crisis and time itself becomes as vast and unknowable as the sea.

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In the Springtime of the Year

Hill, Susan

Last Updated: May-18-2007
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the Springtime of the Year opens with the death of Ben Bryce, a young man in his 20's whom we only get to know posthumously but one who has clearly left his imprint on all who knew him. Dying as a result of a freak accident--an apparently healthy tree suddenly falling on him--Ben, as a friend notes, "had been at one with things" (62). The death, happening so unexpectedly and to such a young man of promise, leaves his small rural English community eerily stunned. "People felt changed, as by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face" (56). As Moony, the same friend, remarks to himself, "it was no ordinary death" (63). Ruth--his young wife--she is 7 or 8 years younger--begins a grieving process that occupies the rest of the novel, beginning with the news of her husband's death in early March until the last page in December.

Although the attention the author pays to Ruth's grief is extraordinarily close, there are other events external to her grief that occupy her and the reader's gaze. Ben's family is equally devastated but hampered in their effort to perform grief work by an egoistically blinkered and unimaginative, selfish mother who has ruined her grown daughter's life, stultified her husband's, and only failed to affect her two sons, Ben and Jo, by dint of their physical and mental exodus, respectively, from the household. Jo, at fourteen (he was exactly half Ben's age at the time of the accident) is precociously generous, supportive of Ruth, and self-sufficient. Indeed, he is the most wise character in the book.

Ruth's attempt to make sense of her husband's tragic death; the usual small town happenings in the village; and Ruth's eventual emergence from her grief, partly as a result of her helping others suffering these small town hardships--all form a tightly knit story that centers around grief, tragedy, and humans' attempt to impose meaning on life's often unfairly dealt hand.

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A Long Way Down

Hornby, Nick

Last Updated: May-18-2007
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

On New Years Eve, four strangers go to the rooftop of "Topper's House", each planning to jump to his or her death. There, rather begrudgingly, they manage to convince one another not to commit suicide. The story follows them over the next few months as they forge a type of friendship, try to re-build their lives and decide whether or not to go ahead with suicide.

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