Showing 171 - 180 of 204 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

Manhattan, When I Was Young

Cantwell, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-17-2001
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In the second volume of her trilogy of memoirs (which begins with American Girl and ends with Speaking with Strangers), Mary Cantwell, a former fashion magazine editor and writer, describes her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, her career advancements, and her divorce, with Manhattan in the 1950s as the backdrop.

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Summary:

This memoir begins in Africa, where Dr. Grim is with Médecins sans Frontières managing a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. Conditions are appalling, but she has come here because of burnout: "so I won't be back home and in the ER" (11). Later in the book, she describes her other "escapes" from the Emergency Room, caring for war refugees in the Balkans.

The book centers, however, on life in an American emergency department, as Grim remembers it from the vantage point of Africa (where she does eventually become nostalgic for well-stocked supply cupboards and a more comprehensible chaos). She organizes her stories into a series of "Lessons in Emergency Medicine," in which she addresses the reader directly. After going through a step-by-step account of death in the ER, illustrated with several moving and alarming cases, she concludes: "Congratulations: you have successfully declared someone dead. Now, as an encore . . . you'll get to do it all over again" (28).

The ironic, even bitter, tone warns us of the difficulty of working in such perpetually crisis-ridden circumstances, but it does not conceal a vulnerability that seems necessary to doing the job well, such as when Grim has to tell a family that the father has died of the heart attack he had at his daughter's wedding: "you just stood there," she says, "looking at the corsage, the tuxedo and the pearls . . . You had no idea what to say and you don't really remember what you finally came out with" (26).

The stories are organized around several lessons: "How to deliver a baby," "How to crack a chest," "How to write a prescription" (which includes a discussion of addiction to prescription medication and a withering account of the doctor who overprescribes), and, as if it's as inevitable as the rest, "How to burn out."

By the book's final chapter, emergency medicine has merged, along with the vaccination of refugee children and the impossibility of treating tetanus in Nigeria, into the story of almost unreasonable determination in the face of endless frustration--but this, Grim shows in her final chapter, "Why I do what I do," is the point. Against this backdrop her final story, about the rescue of a child, makes its point: the feeling of saving a life explains all the rest.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This work describes a young girl, Barbara, growing up in a poor rural Alabama family with a charismatic but abusive father and a nurturing mother unable to leave him, even for the sake of the children. Barbara suffers facial malformation, partly because of malnutrition and no access to dental or medical care.

Her gums cannot close over her buck teeth, her skull is longer and narrower than it should be, her bite does not close properly, and she has several black moles on her face. When she finally has major facial surgery, she is in her late twenties with a six year old son. He does not recognize the pretty women who comes home from the hospital.

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Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Apr-13-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.

During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.

Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.

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The Forbidden Zone

Borden, Mary

Last Updated: Dec-20-2000
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

By the author's own admission, this memoir is a collection of fragments taken from her memory of bits and pieces of her four year experience as a nurse in an evacuation hospital unit following the front lines up and down the European theatre during World War I. The work is fragmented because this experience was fragmented.

The first few chapters are dream-like descriptions of the men marching into battle and crawling back, or being carried back. The second collection of short vignettes dips--just a wee bit--into some of the individual soldiers' immediate stories. The latter segment of the book deals in more detail with the operations of the field hospital, some of its personnel, and some of the patients. Finally, the author treats the reader to a handful of poems, perhaps unnecessary, since the entire memoir is like one giant poem.

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Prozac Diary

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Dec-15-2000
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1988, having suffered for years from major depression and borderline personality disorder, and now also showing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the twenty-six-year-old Lauren Slater is prescribed a new drug: Prozac. In this "diary," a series of meditations and progress reports on her experience, Slater traces ten years on Prozac, providing a remarkable before-and-after picture of the drug's effects.

She is "hobbled" by her illness: has dropped out of college, has been fired from most jobs, has been hospitalized five times. By the end of the book, she has received a doctorate from Harvard, has a successful career as writer, teacher, and psychologist, and is in a happy marriage.

Despite these unquestionable positives, Slater is ambivalent about the drug, describing the shock of becoming "normal," of being assaulted by health. She describes the sexual dysfunction, her anxiety about losing the need and ability to write the kind of poetry she had written before, and the terrifying moment when the drug suddenly stops working, and she must confront the possibility that it may not be a reliable and permanent solution.

She comes to fear that, healthy, she is no longer herself but something the drug has created. At the same time, though, it is only because of the drug that she is even able to ask these questions. Finally, she thanks her doctor for his ambiguous gift: she has become like a beautiful fish, her "skin all silver," her "mouth pierced" on Prozac, "this precious hook."

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Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author of this memoir is a poet and writer who developed systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) during her first year at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially, her condition was difficult to diagnose, which led to her first negative encounters with physicians and the health care system. Later, Ms. Goldstein developed unusual neurological manifestations of SLE. Once again, she had trouble convincing her doctors that her symptoms were not only real, but also disabling. She was fortunate enough to come across a few good physicians who respected her as a person and earned her trust.

Despite her chronic illness, Ms. Goldstein thrived throughout college and graduate school. She approached each new challenge with such a positive attitude that some of her doctors considered her emotionally unstable. (I guess they thought it would be more "normal" for her to lose hope and turn herself into an invalid.) Her graduate work in literature focused on the new field of literature and medicine.

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In a Tangled Wood

Dyer, Joyce

Last Updated: Feb-29-2000
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this lyrical, funny, sad, heartwarming work, Joyce Dyer takes us inside an Alzheimer's unit where she visits her mother daily and watches as she experiences the many absurdities and contradictions of this disease over several years. Dyer records not only the behavior of her mother and other patients in the unit but also her own feelings of worry, anger, frustration and then acceptance. The prose-poem style of this writing makes the work especially wonderful to read, because it is a work of art as well as a very helpful document.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Registered Nurse, Muriel Murch decided, at mid-life, to return to college to obtain her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). She relates this odyssey through a series of generous and quirky letters written to her mother, her children, her husband, and, most strikingly, her deceased Uncle Harold, whose memory serves as Murch's spiritual touchstone.

The book works on two levels. Her struggles as an older woman and already-experienced nurse in a BSN program are delightfully detailed in letters to friends, but to Uncle Harold she reveals the turbulence of her quest: how at mid-life she must rethink her role as wife and mother and view patient care from a new perspective.

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