Showing 161 - 170 of 1219 Fiction annotations

Claire's Head

Bush, Catherine

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.

Initially, Claire's search is motivated by concern for Rachel and intensified by fears that Rachel's worsening migraines may have caused her to take desperate action. Her need to find Rachel is inevitably intertwined, however, with her own migraine experiences and with her drive to individuate within her family and her longterm relationship with her partner Stefan.

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A Stone Woman

Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with the death of the protagonist’s beloved mother, with whom she lives. Ines, a dictionary researcher, is soon jolted from her grief by the excruciating pain of a “twisted and gangrenous gut” (112). After a hospital stay and emergency surgery, she returns home to recuperate from the physical trauma and revisit her mourning. On the day when she can remove the wound dressings, Ines discovers a surprising change in her body: it seems to be turning to stone. Her incision has become a “raised shape, like a starfish, like the whirling arms of a nebula in the heavens” that gradually spreads to the rest of her body, forming "ruddy veins" across her belly and "greenish-white crystals sprouting in her armpits" (119).

Ines assumes that this process is fatal and that she will "observe [death's] approach in a new fantastic form" (121). Deciding to write a record for those who will find her after her demise, she studies the names and nature of minerals in order to understand and describe her metamorphosis. From her new, mineralizing perspective, she realizes that stones can be dynamic and living as well as fixed and dead; minerals are memorials to the relationships and reciprocities between living creatures and dead ones.

Unable to write the record of her transformation, Ines finds herself passionate to be outdoors. She explores the city, looking for "a place to stand in the weather before she became immobile" (127). In an old graveyard, she meets and gradually forms a bond with Thorsteinn, an old Icelandic stonecutter who may also be mourning the death (apparently of a child). The Ines shares the secret of her metamorphosis with the stonecutter and eventually travels with him to his homeland, a geologically young country, where stones are alive and myths tell of “striding stone women.” Thorsteinn sketches here in this landscape and creates a standing stone image of Ines that reflects his ability to see her as she is and find her beautiful: "Petra faction saw that she existed, in there" (150).

Ines's metamorphosis culminates in her inability to see or speak as a human and her ability to perceive a whole new realm of living creatures, "earth bubbles and earth monsters" (151) and other stone people who are "flinging their great arms wide in invitation" (156). She joins their wild dance.

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The Secret Garden

Burnett, Frances

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Protagonist Mary Lennox, "as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is nine years old when she wakes one morning in India to an empty house, forgotten by all in the chaos of a cholera epidemic that has killed her pretty young mother, British army captain father, and most of their servants. The novel charts Mary’s removal to England and her physical, psychological, and moral development on the Yorkshire estate of her widowed uncle Archibald Craven, a reputed "hunchback." As part of her own maturation, Mary catalyzes growth and healing in (and between) her mildly spinally disfigured uncle and his "invalid" son Colin.

The secret garden of the title is Mary’s aunt Lilias’s creation. It has been virtually abandoned since the accident that resulted in Colin’s premature birth and Lilias’s death. Colin himself, while overprotected by the servants, is ignored by his depressed father and hidden in the estate. Mary discovers and rehabilitates both the secret garden and her secret cousin with the help of the working-class Sowerby family, including the servant Martha, her brother Dickon (a boy in tune with nature), and their mother Susan. Archibald, travelling across Europe to escape his sadness, is called back to the garden by a dream of his dead wife and returns to find Colin healthy and walking.

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Hygiene

Petrushevskaya, Ludmilla

Last Updated: Jan-30-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A stranger knocks on the door of the apartment occupied by the R. family. He warns them that an epidemic is spreading in town. Death usually ensues in 3 days and is preceded by swelling, blisters, and redness of the skin. Mice are suspected to carry the disease. The young man appears ill but claims to be a survivor and now immune to the epidemic. He advises the family to remain indoors, avoid mice, and practice strict hygiene. He offers to bring food. The family is skeptical and declines his offer of assistance.

Soon the city is ravaged by the disease. TV and phone stop working. Violence and looting are rampant. Nikolai, the father, regularly goes out at night to rob food and supplies for his family. Sometimes he kills. When he returns home, he always cleans himself thoroughly. He lives with his wife, Elena, their daughter, and Elena's parents.

The family's cat is outside on the balcony and hungry so they bring it inside. The animal eats a mouse, and afterwards the little girl kisses the cat on its mouth. The adults are horrified. They quarantine the child in her bedroom along with the cat. After 3 days, there is no sound or activity in the bedroom. The girl is presumed dead. The cat is alive and escapes. The child's parents and grandparents manifest signs of the infection and die.

Six days after his initial visit, the young man who warned the R. family returns to the apartment building. The place is silent except for the meowing of a cat. The stranger breaks into the apartment and sees 4 dead bodies. Inside the barricaded bedroom, he finds the little girl alive and recovering from the infection. Next to her in bed is the pet cat.

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The Island

Herling, Gustaw

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The Island is a collection of three stories sharing a similar setting (Italy) and populated by several characters who are outcasts. In the title story, the relationship between residents of an island and its medieval monastery, the Certosa, decays over time. When a talented stonemason is accidentally injured, his damaged senses are replaced by pain and suffering. His struggle and sacrifice, however, ultimately result in redemption for all those who inhabit "The Island."

In the eighteenth century, a 20 year old leper is condemned to live the remainder of his life in a tower fittingly known as the Tower of Fright. Although befriended by a stranger, the occupant of "The Tower" must nevertheless endure solitude, and he does so with the patience and grace of a saint. With the backdrop of a plague, "The Second Coming" is a medieval tale that recounts the torture of a doubting priest, an unknown pilgrim’s participation in a miracle, and the death of a pope.

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The Diagnosis

Lightman, Alan

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

While riding on a commuter train, Bill Chalmers suddenly forgets who he is and where he is headed. His amnesia is accompanied first by a numbness of his hands and then later his legs. Eventually he is confined to a wheelchair and dependent on his family and a home nurse to care for him. Despite extensive testing and consultations with a variety of doctors, no one can make a definitive diagnosis of his illness.

Chalmers is subjected to many empirical treatments including antidepressants, steroids, plasmaphoresis, and psychotherapy, but his health continues to deteriorate and he loses his job. His wife and son become victims of his predicament. By the end of the story, Chalmers gains insight into his life and discovers that only his dignity still remains in his control.

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Ooh Baby Baby

Jones, Thom

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

An aging plastic surgeon afflicted with diabetes examines his life and is forced to confront death and the failures of his past. Dr. Moses Galen is a 69 year old California physician with a penchant for sex, Jaguars, and boxing but a fear of making commitments and experiencing a slow death. He spends a weekend with his girlfriend Linda, a trauma surgeon in her forties. After they have sex, he experiences chest pain that he mistakenly attributes to heartburn. Dr. Galen had coronary artery bypass surgery only three years ago and figures it should last at least ten.

He wakes up early in the morning to work out on his punching bag. His chest pain returns and is now accompanied by ventricular fibrillation. He realizes he is having a myocardial infarction and will die. Despite the pain and his fear, Dr. Galen continues to throw punches. He only hopes he can remain quiet enough not to awaken Linda. If she realizes what is happening, she might try to save his life.

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The Pearl Diver

Talarigo, Jeff

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.

Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.

As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.

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Gilead

Robinson, Marilynne

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

John Ames narrates this story in the form of a lengthy letter to his young son. Ames is a 76-year-old minister suffering from angina pectoris and heart failure. He has spent almost all of his life in Gilead, a small town in Iowa. His first wife died during childbirth along with a baby girl. Ames remarried a younger woman who is now 41. They have a son almost 7 years old.

Because Ames believes his death is close at hand, he pens a missive to the boy. Its purpose is to teach his son about all the important things in life Ames may not be around to share with him. During the course of composing the letter, Ames reflects upon his own existence. He recalls the experiences of his father and grandfather who were also ministers.

Reverend Ames likes to think, read, and pray. Born in 1880, he has lived through three wars, the Great Depression, a pandemic of influenza, and droughts. His hope is that his young son will grow into a brave and useful man.

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Saint Ursula and Her Maidens

O'Connell, Mary

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Five women find fellowship and comfort in the swimming pool at a community center managed by Ursuline nuns. Each woman suffers from a chronic disease--lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. One is also being treated for ovarian cancer. The diverse group includes a pregnant woman, an elderly nun, and a retired nurse who currently peddles Avon products. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they participate in aquatic therapy. The one-hour sessions temporarily soothe the body and boost morale. It is a welcome reprieve from the burden of disease and the complications of life.

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