Showing 181 - 190 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn
A woman describes the male body, beginning with the torso--neck, chest, belly, genitals--then the appendages, the back, and finally the head. Her description features the appearance and uses of these anatomical parts from the perspective of female taste and needs. The essay is illustrated with strategically placed images of the human form in exotic settings, taken from Bernard Siegfried Albinus's remarkable treatise of anatomy of the mid-eighteenth century.
The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.
One April day, a middle-aged writer, who was raised a Protestant but is not religious, is surprised to find a stranger, wearing a plain raincoat, in her home. The intruder says that she is Mary, mother of God, and something in her direct simplicity announces the truth of her claim. May will be the busiest of Mary's year, and she is tired; she asks to stay for a week to rest. Over lunch of soup and sandwiches, the two women establish an arrangement that Mary will stay and that if her host chooses to write about the visit, she will call it a work of fiction.
As Mary quietly goes about a banal existence--shopping, napping, doing laundry, using the toilet--the writer embarks on an investigation of Marian history--contrasting the relatively few biblical references to the mother of Jesus with her enormous fame and heavy responsibilities over two thousand years. Why has Mary been venerated? How can she cope with the thousands of prayers sent to her each day? Can transcendence reside in the mundane tasks of female life?
By the time her guest leaves, the writer is not converted but she comes to the conclusion that faith includes the acceptance of uncertainty, and that writing is an act of faith.
Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.
Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.
The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.
Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.
The narrator, Rick, is let out of rehab to live with his older brother, Philip, who is a doctor in Detroit. He will work at a mundane job in Philip's lab. The awkwardness of their encounter slowly evaporates and Rick begins to enjoy life with his family, especially his two young nephews. But he is concerned about Philip's weary appearance, so reminiscent of their father.
It emerges, quickly and to Rick's surprise, that Philip runs an abortion clinic. The clinic is subject to constant harassment by a persistent group of religious, "right-to-lifers," who taunt the doctors, the workers, the patients, and their families at home. Rick struggles to control--even avoid--his feelings; and he tries (unsuccessfully) to suppress the desire to befriend patients.
Eventually, he is reconciled to his new task through an unwelcome fixation on one patient. But angry urges to protect her and his brother well up. After weeks of pent-up rage and fear, he hides a gun, loses control, and begins shooting aggressive protestors. The murder is "nothing"; it's "just like killing babies."
The new interns, Roy Basch (Tim Matheson), Chuck (Howard Rollins, Jr.) and Wayne Potts (Michael Sacks), begin their year of internal medicine training in a busy city hospital under construction. After initial introductions led by the vague staff man and vapid chief resident, they become the specific charges of the cynical resident doctor "Fats" (Charles Haid). Fats teaches them attitude and language: how to "buff" (improve) and "turf" (transfer) "gomers" (Get Out of My Emergency Room)--the words used to describe management of incurable, hateful patients who "never die," regardless of the abuse the clumsy housestaff might inflict. But Fats has heart.
Soon, they fall under the command of the militaristic and lonely woman resident, Jo Miller (Lisa Pelikan), who cannot bring herself to withhold treatment, even at a patient's request. She blames underlings for the failings of medicine and nature, as well as herself.
Wayne throws himself from the hospital roof because of a misplaced sense of guilt over a patient's demise. Roy falls in love with the nurse, Molly (Kathryn Dowling), but nearly loses her as he begins to emulate Jo's cold, calculating style. He is "rescued" in the nick of time by his friends, Fats, and the death of a physician patient (Ossie Davis) whom he admires. With recovered equanimity and renewed anger over the suicide of his fellow intern, Roy refuses to go on with his residency.
For more than fifteen years, Irish-born Grace Marks has been confined for the 1843 murder of housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, and her employer, Thomas Kinnear, at their home north of Toronto. Her convicted accomplice was hanged, accusing Grace with his last breath, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison at the last minute. Because of her amnesia and outbursts of rage and panic, she was held in the Lunatic Asylum before being sent to the Kingston [Ontario] Penitentiary.
Beautiful, intelligent, and strangely poised, Grace intrigues worthy townsfolk, spiritualists, and some of her jailers, who grant her the privilege of outside work, believe in her innocence, and strive for a pardon. In looking for medical approbation, they consult Dr. Simon Jordan, a young American doctor who is interested in insanity and memory loss. Without explaining his purpose, he brings her vegetables and other familiar objects, hoping to stimulate recollection of her life.
Interspersed with Jordan's own problems, Grace's story unfolds in her own words, from her poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland and the emigration voyage that killed her mother, leaving her and her younger siblings to a neglectful father, through her short life in service, to the dreadful events of autumn 1843. She has suffered many losses, including the death of her mother to ship fever, and that of her friend and fellow servant, Mary Whitney, from an illegally procured abortion. After many weeks, Jordan abandons his project in frustration and ambiguity. The novel ends years later with forty-six year-old Grace's discharge from prison in 1872, nearly thirty years after the crime.
Emiko a child survivor of Hiroshima, is now a documentary filmmaker. She has horrific memories of August 1945 when she lost her parents and little brother, and of the years of painful operations and homesickness in America where she was sent to restore her mutilated face. She is hoping to interview Anton Böll, a scientist who had fled Germany to work on the Manhattan project.
Böll contends that he had been unaware of human rights abuses; he left Europe because the Nazi regime had cramped his scientific style. As a consequence, his mother was imprisoned and killed. During the war, he met his Austrian-born Jewish wife, Sophie, at a displaced persons camp in Canada. Sophie had lost her whole family, but she does not speak of them and he does not ask.
Briefly they knew happiness, but soon Böll left for work on the bomb and on to Hiroshima in its aftermath. Their marriage would never be the same. For the rest of his life, Böll justified his involvement as a "dream" turned "nightmare" emerging from the imperative demands of a virtuous science. When Emiko approaches him, he hesitates. He does not want to risk blame. But his dying wife knows that absolution for unacknowledged guilt is what he craves.
In 1869, national and medical attention was focused on a poor family in Wales. The daughter, twelve year-old Sarah Jacob, was bedridden with a strange ailment characterized by paralysis, staring fits, and anorexia. Yet she did not waste away. On the contrary, she seemed to survive comfortably with only few drops of water daily. Credulous folk came to visit, knowing that such abstinence had been the practice of many Christian saints; they would leave a few coins as an offering, although the family protested that money had never been requested. Others claimed it was a hoax.
Eventually the doctors and vicars became curious. An initial investigation upheld the family’s position that the girl did not eat. A more rigorous second investigation was designed by medical professors from Guy’s Hospital in London and carried out by trained nurses who sat knitting at the bedside. It resulted in the girl’s death.
When I had Annina, the narrator says, her first-born child was eight years old, frost covered the geraniums, and something "warm and wet" ran down her legs. She lost her second pregnancy at only nine weeks from a spontaneous abortion. Secretly, she names the tiny girl "Annina" and tucks her inside her heart and mind, where for years she nurtures her, protects her, dresses her, listens to her language, and watches her grow to a daring adventuress, though she is Thumbelina small, and carries a needle for a sword. Annina eventually moves on and the narrator will not dare to ask her to come home.