Showing 171 - 180 of 1216 Fiction annotations

Thoreau's Laundry

Harleman, Ann

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Celia has her hands full. The maxillofacial prosthetist is overwhelmed by the demands of caring for her ill husband at home. Her job - crafting replacement parts for people whose faces are damaged - is truly art but involves interacting with distraught patients and angry families. Her mother constantly telephones to offer unsolicited advice. Celia's husband, Simon, has multiple sclerosis. He has been treated in the emergency department many times and recently has been on a ventilator. Celia realizes that she unintentionally hurts Simon just by caring for him. She has never developed the knack of painlessly administering his injections. When she attaches the feeding pump to his G-tube (a feeding tube permanently set in the stomach), she induces pain by yanking too hard. Her mother, Bess, and best friend, Leslie, try to convince Celia that Simon would be better off in a nursing home, and her life would be less stressful. Although she has a lover, Celia cannot face losing her husband.

One of Celia's clients is an 8-year-old boy, Junius Jones. Most of his left ear was torn off after he was struck by a van. Celia constructs a silicone ear for the boy. She is deeply troubled when the boy's mother cancels his prosthetic fitting twice. Celia's mother is reading a biography of Henry David Thoreau and shares an inspiring quote by Thoreau with her daughter: "Live the life you've imagined" [p 120]. Perhaps Celia is incapable of imagining a hopeful future. Maybe Junius Jones and his mother are unable too.

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Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist. The story is told by means of a journal which the narrator secretly keeps against the orders of her physician-husband, who believes this intellectual effort is contributing to his wife-patient's nervous condition. The narrator, a new mother, has been brought to a country house for a "rest-cure" by her husband; he selects for her the room with the yellow wallpaper, the (former) nursery, where the "windows are barred for little children" and the bed has been nailed to the floor.

Forbidden to write and think, prescribed for and infantilized, the narrator becomes increasingly dysfunctional. She obsesses about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to emerge. The narrator finally "escapes" from her controlling husband and the intolerable confines of her existence by a final descent into insanity as she peels the wallpaper off and bars her husband from the room.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This great literate novel is the tale of Hans Castorp, the "delicate child of life" whom we first meet at age 23, ambivalently embarking on a career as a ship-building engineer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany. Before beginning his professional work, however, he journeys on what is intended to be a vacation and a pro forma visit to see his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, at a sanatorium in the mountain town of Davos, Switzerland. Yet as the train pursues its course through the alpine scenery, Hans and the reader become aware that this is no ordinary journey. The impressionable Hans is transported away from the life and obligations he has known, to the rarefied mountain environment and insular community of the sanatorium.

At first uneasy, he soon becomes fascinated with and drawn to the routine established for the "consumptives" and to the social scene which flourishes there. Ordinary life seems increasingly unreal to him; his perceptions are heightened and he becomes aware of his physical, spiritual, and emotional vulnerability, as well as of his own sexuality. He is greatly attracted to one of the patients, a married woman of Slavic background, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. She reminds him of a schoolboy to whom he had been strangely drawn as a child. The turmoil brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish.

As his intended stay of three weeks nears its close, the director of the sanatorium advises Hans to stay on to recuperate from a heavy cold, which appears to reveal an underlying case of tuberculosis. Hans is almost relieved at this news, for it provides him with a reason for remaining near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions and cogitation about illness, life, time, death, religion and world view initiated by another patient, Herr Settembrini.

Settembrini is an Italian man of letters and humanist who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Hans remains at the sanatorium for seven years, freeing himself from the constraints and conventions of life "in the flatlands" and instead engaging in a prolonged "questioning of the universe." This questioning includes a critical flirtation with death, stunningly described in the chapter, "Snow." Hans does not return home until the outbreak of World War I, in which he fights and survives.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is an autobiographical novel in which the author relates the emotional life of a childhood and young manhood lived with cerebral palsy. The disease is never named (except on the fly-leaf of the book cover); its impact is revealed through incidents and personal relationships experienced by the protagonist in a narration which reflects by its style, the intellectual maturation from childhood to adulthood.

As a child, Felix spends long periods in a children’s home, to receive therapy and educational training, and to relieve his family of the strain of his care. Felix learns to walk with painstaking effort and surges of determination, but the reactions of others, even of his mother, make clear that he is not normal. His social life is complicated by anti-semitism and by just being from a different religious background. With puberty comes sexual longing and the need for female affection, and eventually the painful recognition that his desire will not be reciprocated. What saves Felix is the life of the mind and a love of literature and writing which a few influential mentors and a clever, similarly disabled friend help him to develop.

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Where I'm Calling From

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is an alcoholic who has signed himself into a "drying-out facility." He has been there before and tries to reassure his companion, J.P., that their unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will improve. J.P. likes to talk and the narrator encourages him to do so because he would rather listen to J.P.'s stories than think about his own predicament. After hearing about J.P.'s marriage--infatuation, love, children, drinking, fighting ("who knows why we do what we do?")--the narrator is able to tell his own story.

His story includes a wife with whom he was once happy but from whom he is now estranged, and a girlfriend who has received a cancer diagnosis. Each woman had brought him to the drying-out facility, at each separate occasion. "Part of me wanted help. But there was another part." The narrator's ambivalence extends to his relationship with these two women. He can't face his girlfriend's illness or her son, and he knows that if he calls his wife she will ask him "where I'm calling from" and he will have to explain.

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The Steel Windpipe

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jan-04-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A little girl is brought to the rural hospital by her mother, who throws himself at the feet of the young doctor, “Please do something to save my daughter!” It seems that she has been suffering from a sore throat and is now having difficulty breathing. The doctor looks into her throat; diphtheria is evident.

At first he scolds the mother for not having brought the girl earlier. Then he suggests surgery: a tracheotomy. The doctor knows this is the only way he might save the child, but he is consumed by anxiety because he has never performed the procedure. At first the mother objects to surgery, but then relents. The tracheotomy is successful and the child survives.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is confined to her bedroom in a summer house as part of the rest cure for her "nervousness." A nursemaid takes care of the baby. Her husband John is a physician who insists that she remain completely inactive, not even picking up a pen to write.

The bedroom was formerly a nursery. It has ugly yellow wallpaper with a recurring pattern that begins to obsess the narrator. Given her loneliness and lack of emotional support, she begins to see a woman confined in the pattern of the "repellent, almost revolting" wallpaper. Eventually she decompensates and has a complete emotional breakdown.

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The Metamorphosis

Kafka, Franz

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

First published in 1915, this is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with and financially supports his parents and younger sister. One morning he wakes up to discover that during the night he has been transformed into a "monstrous vermin" or insect. At first he is preoccupied with practical, everyday concerns: How to get out of bed and walk with his numerous legs? Can he still make it to the office on time?

Soon his abilities, tastes, and interests begin to change. No one can understand his insect-speech. He likes to scurry under the furniture and eat rotten scraps of food. Gregor's family, horrified that Gregor has become an enormous insect, keep him in his bedroom and refuse to interact with him. Only his sister Grete demonstrates concern by bringing his food each day.

When Gregor breaks out one day and scurries into the living room, his father throws apples to chase him away. One becomes embedded in his back. Eventually the apple becomes rotten and infected; Gregor wastes away. When he dies the cleaning woman throws his remains into the garbage.

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Morphine

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Bomgard, a young doctor recently transferred from a rural area to a small town hospital, receives an urgent message from Polyakov, the doctor who replaced him. Polyakov has become ill; he needs medical help. Before Bomgard can respond, however, Polyakov arrives at the hospital, dying of a self-inflicted wound. In his last moments, he gives Bomgard a notebook, on which is recorded the story of Polyakov's addiction to morphine.

Polyakov first took morphine to relieve an abdominal pain. He found that it also relieved his despair over the loss of his lover, an opera singer in Moscow. Morphine relieved his loneliness and improved his work. He gradually increased the dose until he became hopelessly dependent on the substance. He failed in his attempts to break the habit at a clinic in Moscow. Eventually there is nothing in life but the drug and Polyakov suicides.

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