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The Not-Dead and the Saved

Clanchy, Kate

Last Updated: Nov-23-2015
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Two individuals share a struggle that is grueling, depressing, and whose outcome is probably preordained. The Mother (divorced, constantly tired, and fearful of sickness) is "not a good choice for the parent of a chronic invalid" (p. 168). The Son (smallish, clever, and born with some kind of tumor) has previously had an organ transplant (most likely kidney).

Their trek through the realm of sickness unfurls in seven scenes - all hospital wards and finally Hospice. First, the Son is an adolescent in a pediatric ward where the Machine (presumably renal dialysis) prevents his death. There he spots a baby that he dubs a "Not-Dead." She has multiple birth defects due to a chromosomal abnormality and is kept alive by technology. He intuits that while not dead, the baby is not "properly alive" either. He muses about his own status. His mother is always bedside, propping up his spirits.

Next he is in the ICU and then transferred to a medical floor. He receives a blood transfusion after disconnecting the Machine in a likely suicide attempt. Sometime later, he is back in the pediatric ward after receiving an organ transplant. The Son gets admitted to the Cardio-Respiratory unit for a severe infection. In and out of hospitals, he enrolls in college but quits. After getting married, he joins a commune of survivors of medical illnesses known as "The Saved." This collective lives on a farm and members avoid any contact with family.

The Son's health further deteriorates. He is hospitalized in terminal condition. By this time, he has his own child, a 14-month-old boy named Jaybird. In the oncology ward, doctors diagnose three tumors in the Son's brain but he refuses any treatment (surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy). He is moved to Hospice. His absent Father comes to visit and comfort him. When the Son dies, it is the Mother who is alone with him. The Son's wife, Father, Jaybird, and members of The Saved commune are all asleep in the Day Room. Only after the Son dies are the names of the Mother and the Son revealed: Julia and Jonathon.

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Summary:

A mother (termed Mother in the story) discovers a blood clot in her young son's diaper and wonders "so what is this thing, startling against the white diaper, like a tiny mouse heart packed in snow?" This discovery leads to a diagnosis of Wilms' tumor--a childhood malignancy of the kidney, and surgery to remove the diseased kidney.The parents are thrust into a new world--the world of pediatric oncology ("peed onk") and meet the Surgeon, the Oncologist, and the other anxious parents waiting in the Tiny Tim Lounge of the pediatric ward. Everyone is named by their relationship to the Mother or by their profession--Baby, Husband, Anesthesiologist.The reader is privy to the inner thoughts of the Mother--her anger, denial, protective instincts and dark ironic vision. The Mother is also a writer and advised to take notes of this odyssey in case they need money to pay the medical costs. She feels alien to the culture of the pediatric ward--only her artsy friends understand her hell. Notes one (Green Hair) "Everyone's so friendly here. Is there someone in this place who isn't doing all this airy, scripted optimism--or are people like that the only people here?"When the Mother is given the option of no post-operative chemotherapy for Baby, the Mother grabs the chance to leave the hospital, clutching Baby, and says "I never want to see any of these people again." The piece ends on the rhetorical and ironic question--where's the money for these notes, for the story?

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A pot of boiling water falls off the stove. A diaper-clad toddler screams. His mother cries hysterically. The little boy is standing barefoot in a puddle of steaming water on the kitchen floor. The father who was busy hanging a door rushes into the room and quickly assesses the situation. He places the child in the kitchen sink and runs cold water over the boy.The child's skin is scalded. The father swaddles him in a wet towel but the toddler shrieks as if he is still being burned. Suddenly both parents realize they haven't checked the diaper. It burns their hands when they take it off. The diaper is filled with hot water that has collected inside it. The parents wrap their son in gauze and handtowels. They take him to the emergency room where "the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead." (p. 116)

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The Physician

Gordon, Noah

Last Updated: Nov-17-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When nine-year-old Rob Cole, child of poor 11th-century English farmers, loses his mother, he is consigned to the care of a barber-surgeon who takes him around the countryside, teaching him to juggle, sell potions of questionable value, and assist him in basic medical care that ranges from good practical first-aid to useless ritual.  When, eight years later, his mentor dies, Rob takes the wagon, horse, and trappings and embarks on a life-changing journey across Europe to learn real medicine from Avicenna in Persia.  Through a Jewish physician practicing in England, he has learned that Avicenna’s school is the only place to learn real medicine and develop the gift he has come to recognize in himself.  In addition to skill, he discovers in encounters with patients that he has sharp and accurate intuitions about their conditions, but little learning to enable him to heal them.  The journey with a caravan of Jewish merchants involves many trials, including arduous efforts to learn Persian and pass himself off as a Jew, since Christians are treated with hostility in the Muslim lands he is about to enter.  Refused at first at Avicenna’s school, he finally receives help from the Shah and becomes a star student.  His medical education culminates in travel as far as India, and illegal ventures into the body as he dissects the dead under cover of darkness.  Ultimately he marries the daughter of a Scottish merchant he had met but parted with in his outgoing journey, and, fleeing the dangers of war, returns with her and their two sons to the British Isles, where he sets up practice in Scotland.

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Best Boy

Gottlieb, Eli

Last Updated: Nov-09-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Best Boy is a novel about Todd Aaron, a 54-year-old autistic man who has lived for 40 years in a Payton LivingCenter (sic); he was involuntarily committed to this facility. Todd has been in five previous places for congregate living, but Payton seems to be the best for him, thanks in part to a loving caregiver, Raykene. Todd has accepted the institutional “Law” of Payton and takes his drugs right on schedule, including Risperdal, an antipsychotic that slows him down, making a “roof” over him and muffling, he says, “the voice in my brain.”  The story is told from Todd’s point of view, often with startling imagery:  he pictures his dead parents turning into giant cigars, a raindrop “explodes,” and, when upset, he rocks back and forth and feels “volts.”  Now and then he recalls that his mother called him her “best boy.”
   
Into this stable setting come three personified disruptions. The first two are fellow patients, Terry Doon (a pun on “doom”?), a brain-injured roommate who teases, torments, and bullies Todd, and Martine Calhoun. While Terry disrupts Todd’s living space, Martine is a siren who lures him to different parts of Payton’s campus; she is also a rebel who urges him to stop taking Risperdal and shows him how to hide the drug in his hand and get rid of it later.   

The third is Mike Hinton, a day staffer who lies, manipulates, and in general mistreats Todd. Todd understands Hinton as evil and entertains violence against him—but does not act. Hinton has sex with a female patient who dies, apparently a suicide, although the language of Payton’s staff, as reported by Todd, euphemistically hides the truth.

Todd has the “Idea” of escape and sets out, on foot, to go 744 miles to “home.” A state policeman soon returns him to Payton.

Now and then Todd’s younger brother Nate calls, often while drinking. Near the end of the book, Nate and his wife Beth take Todd to his childhood home, where he had been abused physically and mentally. In a moving scene, Todd enters the only unchanged area, a crawl space and feels the return he yearned for.            

All three tormentors leave Payton, and there is a surprising resolution for Todd.  The balance and harmony of Payton’s LivingCenter are restored, and Todd, reminded by Raykene, affirms that “Somebody always loved me.” 

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Will Starling

Weir, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-16-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1816 London, Napoleon has been defeated and troops have returned, including teenaged Will Starling, who survived the wars as assistant to the decent surgeon Alec Comrie. Will now serves Comrie in the city, still in strained circumstances.

Medical science has turned to the utility of anatomy, but material for research and teaching is scarce. Body-snatchers procure subjects from robbing graves—sometimes from murder—but they are not the only bad actors. Flamboyant, privileged Doctor Dionysius Atherton is trying to raise the dead by applying newly harnessed electricity to fresh cadavers.

From this ghoulish world of science and crime, young Will Starling tells his own tale, as your “Wery Umble Narrator.” Vivid scenes of wretched urban poverty, wanton cruelty, and selfless heroism march past to a grim ending.  

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Tender Mercies

Brown, Rosellen

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This remarkable, absorbing novel is the story of a marriage and of catastrophe. Dan and Laura are a young couple from very different backgrounds who have two children. There is a terrible boating accident, caused by Dan's cavalier carelessness: Laura is severely injured and is rendered quadriplegic. The narrative skillfully weaves back and forth between Dan and Laura's earlier life, the nature of their relationship, and the present shocking realities of daily living; on-going unresolved guilt, anger, withdrawal and despair; and a gradual reconfiguration of the love and attraction that initially brought the pair together.The author pays unflinching attention to the details of physical incapacitation and how they must be dealt with, and the consequences for Dan as husband-caregiver as well as for Laura. At the same time we hear Laura's dream-like, poetic inner thoughts--a mind trapped in a useless body-- yet she seems to use her mind both as sense organ and limbs. "If Dan . . . ever touched me above my breasts where I edge towards feeling like ice thinning out . . . I would feel it everywhere. Memory is a muscle too if you work it."

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The Story of Beautiful Girl

Simon, Rachel

Last Updated: Oct-02-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

On a stormy night in 1968, Martha, a retired, widowed schoolteacher in rural Pennsylvania opens her door to find a young couple, she white, he African American, wrapped in blankets, drenched, and silent.  Letting them in changes her life.  They have escaped together from a nearby mental institution most locals simply call "The School."  The young woman has recently given birth.  When Martha lets them in, her life changes forever.  Supervisors from "the School" show up at the door, the young man escapes, and the young woman, memorably beautiful, is taken back into custody.  The only words she is able to speak out of what we learn has been a years-long silence are "Hide her."  Thus she leaves her newborn baby to be raised by a stranger.  The remaining chapters span more than forty years in the stories of these people, linked by fate, love and the brutalities of an unreformed system that incarcerated, neglected, and not infrequently abused people who were often misdiagnosed.  Homan, the young man who loved Lynnie, the beautiful girl from the institution, was deaf, not intellectually disabled.  Lynnie was simply "slow," but a gifted artist who recorded many of the events of her life in drawings she shared only with the one attendant who valued and loved her.  Though her pregnancy resulted from being raped by a staff member, the deaf man longs to protect her and care for the baby.  Years separate them; Homan eventually learns signing; Lynnie's sister befriends her and an exposé results in the closure of the institution.  Over those years Lynnie and Homan witness much cultural change in treatment of people like them who were once systematically excluded.  They find social identities that once would have been entirely unavailable to them.  And eventually, after literal and figurative journeys of discovery, they rediscover each other.  

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The Burying Ground

Kellough, Janet

Last Updated: Sep-21-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Luke Lewis is the son of an itinerant preacher in Upper Canada and a recent medical graduate of Montreal’s McGill University. In 1851, he joins the practice of the aging, Edinburgh-trained Dr. Stewart Christie in Thornhill, Ontario. It is a small village a few miles north of Toronto (now the site of some of the most expensive property in Canada).  Christie is tired and leaves Luke alone to work.   

Luke hopes to consolidate his learning and earn enough to set up on his own elsewhere in Ontario, closer to his farming brothers. He rents a couple of rooms from the doctor and is able to accommodate his father Thaddeus Lewis on his occasional visits.   

Morgan Spicer, the custodian of the local Strangers’ Burying Ground, is an old friend of the family. He finds a grave disturbed, which raises the specter of grave-robbing, an all too common crime much abetted by medical schools. But in this case, the corpse is left behind and the grave was not fresh. Morgan is baffled but the police are indifferent. When it happens a second time, Luke and his father try to help solve the mystery. They wonder if Dr. Christie might be behind it. What does he do all day?   

Luke is lonely and he sorely misses his friend and lover, Ben, who died of tuberculosis back in Montreal. Luke has managed to keep his sexual orientation firmly in the closet, knowing it would be the end of his career and of his relationship with his beloved father.   

However, Luke’s gallant actions in rescuing the beautiful African, Cherub, from American slave-traders, result in an unwanted invitation from a somewhat too grateful society lady, Lavinia. Through her, he meets the clever Perry Biddulph and is plunged into a torment of attraction and despair, compounded by the fact that Lavinia’s husband is a scoundrel whom the Lewis’s have met before in the previous novel.   

Luke firmly resolves to avoid both Lavinia and Perry, but she uses his sexual secret to blackmail him into finding the means to leave her husband. Most problems are nicely resolved in the end. To say more would spoil it.  

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A Dublin Student Doctor

Taylor, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-14-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1965, Dr Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly is traveling in his car with nurse Kitty when they come across a road accident and stop to help. The incident leads to reminiscing about his final years of medical training in Dublin hospitals in the 1930s.

Fingal has just returned from a stint in the navy. His student cohort includes a steady chum, a respected, brilliant woman, and a narcissistic pest–-all rather familiar tropes, comfortably portrayed. A picture of a hospital-based education emerges through teachers both kindly and rigid, a crusty head nurse who turns out to be a good soul, and a lovely student nurse, Kitty. Fingal’s professorial father disapproves of his son’s choice of a medical career and on his infrequent visits home, their relationship is tense.

Attractive to medical student readers are the clinical stories, the diagnostic dilemmas, and the stress of examinations. Social factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and discrimination, are intimately connected to the health of Fingal’s patients both as causes and results. His concern for his patients and those aspects of their lives earn him the respect of the head nurse and her student
.   

This story set in two time periods is partly a prequel to some of Taylor’s other tales, such as An Irish Country Doctor.

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