Showing 21 - 30 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Camouflage

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Mar-24-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This short play has three characters: a woman, a man in camouflage, and a second man who turns out to be a doctor. The camouflage man talks on the phone with his unseen wife; he is angry and suspicious of what she has been doing during his absence. The doctor overhears – and thinks about confronting him, but lets it go. The woman speaks with love and joy of her garden, and later of her “elephant” a frightening large creature with bloody eyes—eventually she cannot see her garden.

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Orchids

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Mar-24-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

A chorus of lab techs making symmetrical repetitive motions with microscopes, pipettes, and petri dishes opens the play. They persist in the background of the set, which is the waiting and consulting rooms of a clinic for reproductive technology.  The chief, Dr. Staiman, is not only an expert in this field of human biology  he also enjoys an international reputation (and many patents) for his genetic manipulation of orchids in a quest for perfect blooms.

Heather and Rose are both clients of the facility. Heather wants a baby and needs help to be able to conceive. Rose could actually conceive on her own; however, she is investing in expensive and painful genetic selection to avoid having a child with the same trait as her brother. His Tourette’s syndrome, she contends, ruined life for her parents and herself as well as for him.

It emerges that Heather too has Tourette’s syndrome, but she does not believe it ruined life for her family and is unafraid of having an affected child. The women must wrestle with the notion that Rose does not think someone like Heather should exist; and Heather wonders if she should be testing her own embryos.

The two clinic doctors, Blume and Staiman, offer similar services, but as an ethicist, Blume worries about the moral implications of the new technology. Heather challenges Staiman over his willingness to destroy an embryo that might become a person like herself. He seems baffled by her concern, claiming that science makes perfection possible and that the decision should belong to the parent.

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Up in Smoke

Pennie, Ross

Last Updated: Feb-28-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The third novel in the series of Zol Szabo, who is a public-health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to ten year-old, Max, because his unstable wife, Francine, could not deal with Max’s mild physical disability. His partner in life and work is now Colleen, an attractive woman detective whom he met in the first novel and who looks "like Cameron Diaz in a ponytail” (p. 140).

Teenagers at a private religious school begin to sicken and some die of a mysterious liver ailment. School authorities categorically deny any use of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol—but Szabo’s team quickly discovers that not only do the kids smoke, they prefer a cheaper form of cigarette that is manufactured and sold at cut rates by the local native community.

In the background of this stressful situation, Zol’s mother is dying of cancer, his ex-wife is threatening to visit, and Zol is caught up in a violent break-in at a Toronto museum that resulted in the theft of a precious native artifact.

The team unravels a series of epidemiological clues that point to the interaction of pesticide-tainted tobacco reacting with liver cells to produce the dangerous disease. He must then convince the unscrupulous cigarette manufacturer to stop production before the problem spreads widely. Their methods are unorthodox because they lack support from the bosses who are afraid of public and political opinion. Using clandestine photography they prove that the owner has been lying about his distribution methods.

The investigation helps to solve the older murder of a native woman scientist who had uncovered the problem and been brutally silenced.

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By Blood

Ullman, Ellen

Last Updated: Feb-19-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first-person, nameless narrator is in mid-1970s San Francisco on a "sabbatical" that is more like an exile from his academic post in the east. He takes an office in a downtown building to force himself to leave his dull accommodations. Occasionally he can hear everything that transpires from the space on the other side of the wall, which is the office of psychiatrist, Dr. Schüssler. Normally, the woman doctor runs a white-noise machine to ensure privacy, but one patient — who becomes “my patient” — hates the noise and insists it be turned off.

Adopted in infancy, “my patient” is in a fraught lesbian relationship. Her doctor has been encouraging her to find her birth mother, but she keeps resisting. Finally she embarks on a long exploration that is told through her accounts to the doctor, through conversations repeated and letters read out loud. As an academic scholar, the eavesdropping narrator is able to trace records that could not be found by the patient; he takes the liberty of meddling, falsifying an agency letter and setting her on the correct path. He also realizes that the psychiatrist’s father was a Nazi officer by listening to telephone conversations with her own mentor.

“My patient” learns that her mother was Jewish and escaped death by being in a special facility as a comfort woman. Chameleon-like the mother’s identity changes over and over. In contrast to the nameless patient, her name moves from Maria to Miriam to Michal; she lives in Israel where the patient goes to find her. The biological father’s identity is a mystery—perhaps someone whom Michal loved, perhaps a Nazi officer. The sacrifice of her child to a Catholic adoption agency moves from inexplicable selfishness to desperate selflessness. Surprises continue to the end when "my patient" finds an Israeli sister who has been in contact with the mother but is no less confused over her identity.

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A Child on Her Mind

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Feb-14-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Nurse Moira is caring for three different women in labour: two have female birth partners; one is alone. 

Teenage Stacey with her school friend Jeannine adopts a punk, devil-may-care attitude to the whole process, but shrieks in agony with her pains; she plans to keep the baby in defiance of all her family members and advisors. Unknown to Stacey, Jeannine once had a baby and gave it away for adoption; it is a secret that Jeannine wants to believe was for the best.

The solitary Jane had once adopted a baby like Jeannine’s only to lose it again within the requisite month-long waiting period. Heartbroken Jane and her husband paid for a woman to have IVF so that Jane could become pregnant. She is thrilled that she will finally become a mother, but her earlier experiences make her sympathize with mothers who cannot conceive or who have lost babies through adoption or death.

Eva an immigrant from Kosovo had been brought to Canada as a housekeeper by the driven businesswoman Carol, who is "coaching" her. Because Carol is no longer fertile, she deliberately goaded Eva into becoming a surrogate mother, inseminated artificially through her husband’s sperm. Should Eva refuse or break the contract, she will be returned to Kosovo. For fear of the slightest damage to the child that she intends to claim, Carol will not let Eva speak or have any analgesia. Eva is miserable; the audience hears her thoughts, but Carol and the nurse cannot.

Moira copes with the three radically different scenarios, succeeding in giving egalitarian care. Moira and Jane inform Eva of her rights, and she takes her baby and returns to Kosovo. 

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Augustine

Winocour, Alice; Soko; Lindon, Vincent

Last Updated: Feb-07-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Augustine, a fifteen-year old maid in a wealthy home, collapses with a seizure while she is serving an elegant dinner. When she recovers, she is unable to open one eye. She is transported to Salpetriere hospital in Paris under the care of the famous J. M. Charcot, neurologist and psychiatrist who is fascinated by the condition of hysteria. He uses hypnosis to suggest cures to his patients and to trigger attacks which he demonstrates to his colleagues. Augustine is particularly susceptible to fits under hypnosis and obliges her doctor with lewd, convulsive performances virtually on command.

After one such episode the paralysis moves from her eye to her hand. She says that she wishes to be cured, but life in the asylum is not terrible: she has a warm room and food; she no longer needs to work in a kitchen or serve demanding masters.  The doctor is clearly taken with her as a scientific subject. “Augustine est une patient magnifique,” he assures a colleague. He is personally intrigued by her too.

Finally, one day she announces that she is cured. When Charcot tries to hypnotize her for another demonstration, she does not succumb; however, a look passes between them. Taking pity on her doctor, she stages a seizure that satisfies the audience. Immediately after, she and the doctor have a single passionate encounter against a clinic wall, and then she runs away.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Young, beautiful Caroline Mathilde (Vikander) writes a letter to her children explaining why they have been separated. A few years earlier in 1766, she was sent from her native England to Denmark to become consort to King Christian VII (Følsgaard).

Her hopes are dashed when she discovers that her regal husband is deeply disturbed and little interested in her. They manage to conceive a baby boy – and all further relations between them discontinue.

Dr. Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen) is a progressive, German physician, interested in helping the poor. His friends wish to curry favour with the monarch and sway politics. They believe that Struensee might be good for the King and good for them. He is recruited to the royal entourage.

The plan works well. Struensee is able to calm the king, who grows fond of and dependent on his physician. Under his influence, the king asserts his own authority and begins making progressive laws – banning torture, improving sanitation, outlawing biased financial practices for artistocrats. These changes displease some of the very people who had brought Struensee to court.

Worse, the doctor understands Caroline Mathilde and her loneliness. He is instrumental in a partial reconciliation between the queen and the king, but inevitably he and she fall in love. Their affair is an open secret at court. When she bears a daughter, the King recognizes the child, but everyone knows that the infant is not his.

Eventually the affair is used to bring down both Struensee and the Queen. She is sent into exile without her children. He is lied to, and brutally decapitated in 1772. Three years later, she writes to her children and dies of fever.

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The Cure

Barrett, Andrea

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.

Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).

Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.

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Secrecy

Thomson, Rupert

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1701, the wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo is invited to the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. His talent in is portraying the human form in various states of decay – anatomically correct, each figure set in a box recreating scenarios, as chilling memento mori.

Zumbo is well received in Florence and befriends anatomists and physicians at the local hospital Santa Maria Nuova. But he cannot fathom why he has been invited until he meets the Grand Duke himself. Cosimo confesses the misery of his marriage to the much younger Frenchwoman, Marguerite Louise. She has left him, yet he loves her still. He asks Zumbo to fashion a wax woman for him—but the artist must be careful because Florence—under Cosimo’s own pious orders – is becoming increasingly intolerant of sexual deviation of any sort. Spies are everywhere.

Zumbo is given the corpse of a young woman, mysteriously drowned, and makes a cast of her body. Then he finds a way to make the dubious project “acceptable” by concealing a fetus inside her removable but flat belly.

Meanwhile, Zumbo spies a beautiful woman in an apothecary shop – and spends a long time searching for her. Her name is Faustina, and eventually they begin an affair, which is deemed unacceptable. They must flee from a murderous Dominican priest who plans to torture and kill them both.

Without giving too much away, the ending is poignant.

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Counting the Days

Donoghue, Emma

Last Updated: Sep-30-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1849, Jane Johnson is on a ship headed for Quebec City with her two children. She has had a relatively uneventful crossing – only one old man died and a child was stillborn. She cannot wait to be reunited with her husband Henry. Having left a year earlier, he is waiting for her eagerly. They both now think that they should not have separated. They each clutch the handful of barely literate letters. She has sternly told him that he must be at the ship to greet them. Fully intending to be there, he suddenly falls ill with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea and is dragged to a hospital. It is cholera and he realizes that he will die without seeing his little family again. As the boat docks, she thinks she sees him in the crowd.

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