Showing 191 - 200 of 1213 Fiction annotations

My Sister's Keeper

Picoult, Jodi

Last Updated: Nov-22-2009
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel follows, in a roughly temporal manner with flashbacks, the evolution of the illness of a child afflicted with promyelocytic leukemia and her family's attempt to save her. At core is the issue of conceiving a child with the hope that she (Anna) will be able to provide what her older, ill sister (Kate) needs to survive. The initial need is met by cord blood transfusion, however, as time passes, Kate relapses, and technology makes new demands on the obligatory donor.

Eventually Anna, at age 13, requests emancipation from the health care control of her beleaguered parents. The reader is introduced to the dilemma as the adolescent donor seeks legal help. Over the course of the novel, which is structured with a revolving first person viewpoint, the reader becomes acquainted with the personal perspectives of many characters, but with no warning of the ultimate outcome of the family drama.

View full annotation

Sea of Glass

Farrington, Carolyn

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel tells the story of Renee and Michael Talbott and their son Evan, a young man "admitted to the hospital as a voluntary patient when he was no longer able to survive in the outside world." Evan's schizophrenia and recurrent institutionalizations, described from his mother's point of view, devastate his family and drive a wedge of guilt and resentment between his mother and step father.

The novel, although written in simple, straight-forward prose, suggests a Dickens-like expose' of social ills, human entanglement, and (perceived) medical mistakes. At the book's conclusion, Renee, sensitized to the fate of all who suffer from mental illness, finds no resolution even when Evan is, for a time, stable and independent.

View full annotation

Banishing Verona

Livesey, Margot

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Banishing Verona concerns a 22-year-old house painter living in London. One soon realizes that Zeke Cafarelli is not normal. He has had a nervous breakdown a few years earlier; collects clocks--he has nine at the beginning of the novel and adds two more by novel's end--which he takes apart and restores; he has basic questions about interpersonal relations that, were it not for his illness, mentioned once, briefly and vaguely (24), one would describe as childlike naiveté.

For example, he wonders why people lie. Or, why is it so easy to identify vegetables (his parents are greengrocers) but not people each time one encounters them in even slightly different settings? Several times the author describes Zeke's mother or father (whom Zeke calls Gwen and Don, respectively) while their son is trying to confirm their identity as his parents.

Quite early in the narrative, like a dea ex machina, Verona MacIntyre enters Zeke's life. Or perhaps Venus on the half shell would be a more specific identification of the dea, since Verona is pregnant, and soon becomes as naked as Venus in the famous painting by Botticelli, to whose paintings Zeke is likened with his angelic appearance and lustrous hair. The two become oceanic--if not star-crossed--lovers-at-first-sight since Verona has to traipse off to Boston to help bail her sociopathic brother out of yet another financial and amorous mess of his own making. Despite the appearances of Jigger (Verona and Henry's grandfather in the persona of a long letter to Verona), and Toby (a mutual lover-friend of Verona and Henry), and Maurice (Gwen's lover), the plot does not seem unwieldy.

View full annotation

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

Jensen, Liz

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Louis Drax is a nine-year-old boy living in France with his stay at home mother and Air France pilot father. Such an apparently normal family description is the merest tissue of appearances. The father is probably an alcoholic and unfaithful; the son is "accident-prone" (a nearly fatal episode of SIDS at two weeks of age, a near fatal electrocution at age 6 after falling on the tracks of the métro in Lyon; salmonella, tetanus, botulism, meningitis, etc. [or, as Louis is fond of saying, "blah, blah, blah."]) and the mother has issues that only emerge as one becomes more deeply involved in what is a mystery story.

Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Chronicle of a Death Foretold, or Janet Lewis’s superb The Trial of Søren Qvist, one knows the ending early on (page 16 in Louis Drax), but not the details. The why and the how are the stuff of the novelist’s art in all three books.

With premonition of more danger, Louis goes on a family picnic (see below for the author’s biographical basis for this tale) and winds up at the bottom of a ravine, dead. Drowned and dead. A few hours later, in the morgue, he is found to be alive. Comatose and in a persistent vegetative state but alive. He is therefore transferred to the care of a neurologist specializing in comatose patients at the Clinique de l’Horizon (formerly l’Hôpital des Incurables).

It is here that the mystery unfolds. The questions are: How did Louis end up at the bottom of the ravine? Did his father, now missing, push him as his distraught mother alleges? What role does the clearly neurotic mother play in this tragedy? And who exactly is Louis Drax? Lastly, how do the mysterious letters allegedly from him, written while still in a coma, come to be?

View full annotation

The Line of Beauty

Hollinghurst, Alan

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hollinghurst's Booker Prize winning novel begins in 1983, just as Nick Guest has graduated from university. A young middle class gay man, he has secured for himself a rather cozy spot in the posh Notting Hill mansion of the wealthy Fedden family, based on his friendship at Oxford with the family scion, Toby, and partly earning his keep by looking after the daughter, Catherine, whose manic depression is marked by mood swings, lability, suicidal thoughts, and self-mutilation.

Gerald Fedden, the imposing paterfamilias has recently been elected a Tory MP (Member of Parliament), rising to power on the coattails of Margaret Thatcher's dominance of British politics in the 1980s. The story follows Nick through the mid-1980s, between Thatcher's two re-elections, chronicling his relationships with the Fedden family, his parents and his lovers, as his own fortunes and opportunities swell and then burst.

View full annotation

The Echo Maker

Powers, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mark Schluter, a 27 year old beef-processing plant worker, becomes involved in a car crash outside Kearney, Nebraska, the locus of this novel. The car crash---on February 2, 2002, a date that the author wishes to impress the reader as one that seems too numerically mystical (02/02/02) to be co-incidental--clearly has mysterious elements about it since it occurred far outside town on desolate flat country roads and amidst the tire tracks of another car. Too, just after Mark is hospitalized, there appears an undecipherable note of anonymous provenance:

I am No One
but Tonight on North Line Road
GOD led me to you
so You could Live
and bring back someone else.

Mark has an initially troublesome route to recovery, including a temporary ventriculostomy to relieve the pressure in his head. Meanwhile his only sibling, Karin, 31, rushes to his side from Sioux City, a move that becomes permanent and costs her her job. Mark eventually awakens but with an unusual mis-identification syndrome, called the Capgras syndrome (more commonly encountered in patients with psychiatric condition), in which the patient fails to recognize those closest to him as such. For a Capgras patient, there is a disconnect between the visual ability to recognize their faces and emotional response to them as close relatives or friends. He recognizes the visual similarity but considers the significant other an impostor.

This rupture in the usual see-sister's-face-acknowledge-as-sister apparently occurs, in the Capgras syndrome, in connections between one's "primitive" or "reptilian" brain, including the amygdala, and the cortex. Much is made of this failure of neuronal circuits to connect, and reminds one of the parable in His Brother's Keeper (see database) about the Chinese Emperor and the failure of the transmission of a message to explain the pathophysiology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. As Karin remembers the neurologic explanation, " 'His amygdala, she remembered. His amygdala can't talk with his cortex" [original italics] (80). This amygdala-cortex dichotomy becomes, in behavioral terms, feeling versus reason. As discussed by the two neurologists involved in Mark's case, "But no emotional ratification. Getting all the associations for a face without that gut feeling of familiarity. Pushed to a choice, cortex has to defer to amygdala"; "So it's not what you think you feel that wins out, it's what you feel you think" (131).

Out of desperation, Karin emails a request to Gerald Weber, a famous cognitive neurologist-author modeled primarily after Oliver Sacks but with a little A. R. Luria, whose "To find the soul it is necessary to lose it" is the epigraph of the novel. From the time Weber meets Mark and Karin, the book becomes an intricately entangled design of various metaphysical threads all of which, directly or indirectly, revolve around Mark's syndrome and identity--in fact the identity of all the characters. Karin becomes involved-- re-involved-- with two men from her earlier days in Kearney, Robert Karsh, a developer, and Daniel Riegel, a conservationist. Later the two men become ideologically more opposed than ever when Karsh tries to develop the annual nesting grounds of the cranes, Grus canadensis, who return to Kearney, thousands of them, every February. Barbara Gillespie, a guardian angel to Mark at the extended care rehab center, and Gerald Weber, until then a man happily married to a prototypically liberal intellectual woman, Sylvie Bolan, become romantically drawn to each other. Weber's own doubts about his work and his public image after unprecedentedly critical reviews of his latest book torment him and lead to concerns about his own identity as a physician who may be using, rather than trying to understand, his patients.

View full annotation

Rembrandt's Whore

Matton, Sylvie

Last Updated: Nov-16-2009
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

During  the Dutch Golden Age, religion and medical science were combined in people's minds to the extent that illness, especially plague, was seen as a punishment from God. In the minds of  many Dutch seventeenth-century Calvinists, God was vengeful and often angry with the sinner. As Matton shows in this fictional monologue of an illiterate peasant woman, Hendrickje Stoffels (1626-1663), when plague swept through the city of Amsterdam, the afflicted person had three ways of fighting the disease: prayer, folk remedies, and the ministrations of the plague doctors. But for Hendrickje, prayer held first place.Hendrickje Stoffels modeled for several Rembrandt works. She was one of the three most important women in the life of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669).

He was first married to Saskia van Uylenburgh, who bore him 4 children. Only Titus,their son, survived. As Saskia lay dying of tuberculosis, Rembrandt hired Geertje Dircx  (c.1610-1656) as Titus's wetnurse. She became Rembrandt's lover. Hendrickje entered his household and began a relationship with the painter in the late 1640s. As Geertje was being forced out of the home, Rembrandt started paying her an annuity; later, she sued Rembrandt for breach of marriage contract. He had her removed to a prison/insane asylum. Hendrickje bore him a daughter, Cornelia (1654),the only one of his five children to survive their father.

The book begins when Hendrickje is 23 years old and Rembrandt 42. Matton's book cover shows Rembrandt's painting, Hendrickje Bathing (1655). This and several other paintings of his lover illustrates Rembrandt's passion for Henrickje who  devoted her life to the artist, to Titus, and Cornelia. We read the experiences articulated by the deeply religious Hendrickje as she moves around Rembrandt's home and studio, and the streets of Amsterdam. She thinks that  cats and dogs, not rats, carry the plague.  She notices wounded war veterans with open sores in the streets, lepers, and public whippings and executions. She is obsessed with the worms that live in the body and cause plague and death. Cherries also cause the plague.

In 1654, the City Fathers summon her, pregnant, accusing her of whoredom--hence the title of the book. She endures an admonition and is banished from the Lord's Supper. She becomes Rembrandt's common law wife. We witness the home birth of Cornelia and observe Hendrickje breastfeeding her. She watches Rembrandt and his pupils at work in the evil smelling studio where his assistants boil rabbit skins to make glue for the paints. Hendrickje composes medications she has learnt about  from a midwife in her home town of Bradevoort, but she cannot cure the plague. A comet streaks across the sky to announce an outbreak in Amsterdam. Rembrandt goes bankrupt, and Hendrickje feels Rembrandt's tears on her face as she suffers a horrific death from plague, clinically rendered by the author.

View full annotation

The Pastures of Heaven

Steinbeck, John

Last Updated: Nov-07-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One of Steinbeck's earliest published works, The Pastures of Heaven is a collection of stories about the inhabitants of a fertile valley in California, beginning with the Spanish corporal who first stumbles across the "long valley floored with green pasturage on which a herd of deer browsed" and concluding with the families living there during the first stages of the great depression.  Most of the stories take place in 1928-1929, although many are rooted in flashbacks and narratives that span the generations before.  

The novel consists of short stories that describe particular times and places within the valley, and collectively form multiple different perspectives on life there; they are linked by the valley but also by the relationships between the families, and in particular, the Munroes, whose pleasant, mild appearance in almost every story heralds disaster.

View full annotation

Breath, Eyes, Memory

Danticat, Edwidge

Last Updated: Oct-26-2009
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set against the backdrop of the violent post-Duvalier years in Haiti, this novel traces the development of Sophie, the product of a violent rape. Having been raised lovingly by her aunt in a village near Port-au-Prince for 12 years, Sophie is suddenly sent for by her mother (who had immigrated to the United States as an asylum seeker). Living in New York, Sophie discovers that her mother is haunted by violent nightmares, a remnant of the trauma she had suffered before fleeing Haiti.

Part Two opens as Sophie, now 18, falls in love with her neighbor, a musician named Joseph. Her mother, upon finding out about Sophie's love interest, begins the humiliating tradition of her mother, "testing" Sophie's virginity by inserting a finger in her vagina to make sure the hymen was not broken. After several "tests," Sophie painfully breaks her own hymen with a pestle and immediately runs off with Joseph.

Part Three of the novel opens about a year later, when Sophie has left her husband and returns to Haiti with her baby daughter. Here, she begins learning about her mother's past as well as telling her aunt and grandmother about her own current sexual dysfunction and her bulimia. Sophie and her mother reunite and reconcile in Haiti and later return to the States where Sophie returns to Joseph and begins a kind of therapy that includes rituals from Haitian, African, and Chicana traditions.

Meanwhile, Sophie's mother becomes pregnant (by her long time lover and friend) and increasingly agitated, finally committing suicide. At the funeral, in Haiti, Sophie runs into the cane field where her mother had been raped some 20 years earlier. As she is screaming her grief and rage, she tears at the cane stalks. Rather than attempting to stop her, Sophie's aunt and grandmother watch her, finally asking, "are you free?" and then insisting, "You are free!" (p. 233)

View full annotation

The Girl With a Baby

Olsen, Sylvia

Last Updated: Aug-26-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

At fourteen, after marginally consensual sex with a boyfriend, Jane has a baby.  She managed to keep her pregnancy a well-camouflaged secret until late in the process; both family and friends are still reeling from her late-breaking news.  Her mother has died; her grandmother has moved from the tribal reservation to live with Jane, her father (a white Canadian), and Jane's two brothers.  Though the school she attends has daycare for students' babies, Jane finds little emotional support, even among former friends, until a new girl, Dawna, takes an active, unpretentious interest in both Jane and the baby.

With Dawna's and her grandmother's help Jane decides to make the rather complicated arrangements required to allow her to audition for the school play and pursue a longstanding dream of singing and dancing on stage.  She meets with fierce and aggressive competition from a much more privileged girl who does her best to discredit Jane's efforts on account of her unfitness as both a Native American who doesn't look the part, and as an unwed mother who, as one faculty member puts it, shouldn't "parade herself" in public.  Nevertheless, Jane's skill and determination and soul-searching pay off; despite the steep learning curve required to care for a baby and the psychological cost of teen motherhood, she succeeds in making the accommodations and compromises necessary to retrieve old dreams on new terms.

            

View full annotation