Showing 171 - 180 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

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 (H├ęctor 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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The Blood Doctor

Vine, Barbara

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Martin Nanther is a member of the British House of Lords, having inherited his title from his great-grandfather, Henry. Physician to Queen Victoria, Henry specialized in hemophilia, the disease that Her Majesty was known to have passed to her son, Leopold, and other descendants. While the House of Lords considers a Bill to abolish hereditary peerage and Martin's much younger, second wife is obsessed with becoming pregnant, he escapes into his slow research for a biography of Henry

His patient genealogical investigations uncover deaths in infancy of several young boys in his own family, and Martin soon realizes that hemophilia (rather than the family's legendary tuberculosis) is the cause. Was that irony merely a coincidence? Or was hemophilia in his own lineage the impetus for his grandfather's research and position in life? And why was the disease hushed? Was it possible that his grandfather deliberately sought a bride with the trait in order to investigate it in his own progeny?

Martin soon finds himself wondering if this well-respected, medical man actually committed murder, or was he merely waylaid by unexpected love? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the answers prove so surprising and so disturbing, that Martin decides to abandon the biography of his ancestor, even as he learns that his inherited peerage has been revoked and that his next child will soon be born.

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The Seven Sisters

Drabble, Margaret

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Deserted by her husband, who teaches in a bucolic, private school for the visually impaired, Candida is a 50-ish, unemployed woman, estranged from her three daughters, at least two of whom blame her for the failure of her marriage. To the astonishment of everyone in her sphere, she embarks on a completely new, though modest life in a tiny, walkup flat in one of London's immigrant communities. Her consciously passive efforts to find new friends and discard old ones leads her to keep a diary, to take a night course on Virgil, and improbably--when the night school closes--to join the Health club that replaces it.

Eventually, she assembles six new friends--the seven sisters--for an Aeneas-like journey from Carthage to Rome, with plans to consult the Cumean Sybil en route. Illness draws her closer to her middle daughter, Ellen, whose own perspectives on her parents' marriage contrast with those of her mother. Illness also forces an abrupt end to the travels. Candida wrestles with the issues of survival, suicide, and the meaning of life for an aging woman in an aging body whose entire purpose had once been helpmeet and mother. Can any other purpose be found?

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Forms of Devotion

Schoemperlen, Diane

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Ten "forms of devotion" are described briefly in one or two pages of accessible, everyday prose: Faith, Memory, Knowledge, Innocence, Strength, Imagination, Prayer, Abundance, Wisdom, Hope. Each is illustrated with an engraving of an allegorical image with Latin and gothic German text. In the first mini-essay, the narrator contends that "the faithful are everywhere." She demonstrates that faith in a future and in immortal continuity is the driving force, not only for religious folk, but for anyone who goes to school, gets up each day, drives to work, embarks on a journey, takes a pill.

The following mini-essays show how each of the forms of devotion are wielded by "the faithful" to carry on valiantly confronting the challenges of ordinary existence. Faith and Hope together beget power. By the end, the reader senses a certain irony--as if the writer is not a member of the faithful. She may acknowledge and sometimes envy their resolute success, but does she share it? Perhaps not, and we are left wondering if she even admires it.

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Body Language

Schoemperlen, Diane

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

What appear to be early-twentieth-century anatomical engravings of various body parts--eye, tongue, spine, breast, legs, foot, genitalia--accompany a male narrator's thoughts about his wife and their relationship. He describes the "good days" and "bad days" in their mundane life. He suspects that she may be having an affair and wonders if he should have one too. Her disturbing restlessness is felt "in [his] bones," but he avoids confronting it, hoping that they will continue happy.

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