Showing 201 - 210 of 224 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn
Second Son chronicles the changes in family relationships that follow disclosure of a son's AIDS. The father's initial response reveals unexamined attitudes that complicate the supportive response he'd like to give. Father and son are brought into unfamiliar and unwelcome intimacy, the former wanting to "fight it," the latter wanting to turn inward, accept his condition and decide how to live out his life.
Father and son find that they handle sickness in much the same way they have handled the other aspects of their divergent lives. A new lover, who also has AIDS, finally provides what the family, tragically, cannot. The story highlights confusions about what family members owe one another and makes clear how the families of the sick need to be healed if they are to become healing communities.
The narrator of this long, lyrical musing is a psychiatrist who works with autistic children. Though much of the narrative is a reflection on her mid-life relationship with a journalist lover who risks death to report on places in political turmoil, her observations about her patients provide a recurrent motif and reference point.
Several long passages detail the fascination and frustration involved in working with her young patients, what she has learned from them about limits, patience, and the semiotics of autism. She also reflects on how that learning has allowed her to understand "normal" people differently. One of the subtle but strong themes of the story is the question of what "normal" means.
A secondary focus is her close attachment to her two grown sons. This is developed through memories of particular scenes of their childhood that she identifies as bonding moments. Another focus is her relationship with her mother, now dwindling into mental incompetence and squalor in her old age. Thinking about these relationships, with lover, sons, mother and patients, is a way of taking stock of how the strands of her life have brought her to a place of qualified peace in mid-life.
Lainey's husband, Jay, has been in a coma for weeks, now extending into months. She takes care of their daughters, visits him daily, finds what solace is possible with her resilient, tough-minded, and compassionate neighbor, Alice, and continues to believe he will wake up when the medical staff have largely given up hope.
As she sits with him, trying to adjust and foster her hopes, bringing familiar smells, textures, and sounds from home in the hope of triggering response, she imagines his state of mind. Interludes that work a little like prose poems suggest something of the liminal state he may inhabit. Lainey meets a fellow visitor at the nursing home whose wife dies after having been comatose for 6 months.
Lainey's life is kept from complete inward focus by Alice's efforts to keep her going out, and by Alice's own problems which include a straying husband who finally reveals that he's been struggling with homosexuality and has fallen in love with another man. Jay finally awakens and life returns to something like normal, but with an abiding awareness of the mystery of consciousness and memory, and a heightened sense of the preciousness of consciousness, choice, and the ordinariness of daily life.
When we first meet Gary Madden he's face down on a hospital bed rigged to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores. His head is in a brace and he can move neither arms nor legs. He was carried off the football field the previous week with a spinal cord injury and doesn't yet know what his prospects are for recovery. Eventually he learns that he has some hope of recovering at least partial use of arms and upper body, but virtually no hope of walking again.
His parents, a faithful teacher, a bewildered girlfriend, and a few awkward but good-hearted teammates find their various ways to see him through months of adjustment, some of them more helpful than others. They all have something to learn in the course of caregiving: his mother has to struggle not to be overprotective; his girlfriend has to find new ways to interpret his moods and her own as they try to imagine what future their relationship could possibly have; his closest friends know little about the nuances of sickroom diplomacy, which makes sometimes for comedy, sometimes for unintended pain.
His English teacher who has recently lost her husband in a car accident, turns out to be a significant mentor in transition as she forces herself to reach beyond her own loss to help him in his. One form her help takes is to open his imagination to other ways of living, through literature and poetry, and to a metaphor for how to live that might work better than "winning."
Allison Shandling is a bright 14-year-old with an autistic twin brother, Adam. She has spent her life being the "good" child, accommodating to her brother's idiosyncratic behavior, learning to weather public curiosity, support her parents, and not cause them further anxiety.
When her parents decide to reconnect with a religious community, she finds that one of the school bullies is the rabbi's son, Harry. He teases her mercilessly about her brother, especially after his father, the rabbi, takes Adam under his wing and tutors him for his bar mitzvah. When Harry is paralyzed from the waist down in a sporting accident he retreats even further into bitterness, but Allison finds herself drawn to him nevertheless.
Against her own "better judgment," she pursues a friendship with Harry, learns that the source of much of his anger lies in the death of his mother and his father's distance, and that the two of them share a sense of being marginalized in families where other critical needs have overshadowed their own very ordinary needs. Eventually friendship blossoms into a first romance as well as inciting both to initiate new conversations with their parents.
The threat of biotechnological warfare and/or terrorism is the focus of this carefully researched and riveting novel by the author of The Hot Zone. The term "science fiction" doesn't quite do justice to this tale which lies just to the other side of Preston's usual domain of literary nonfiction. Though the particulars of this story of a genetic engineer who designs lethal virus bombs to thin the population and the counterterrorist group of scientists who attempt to stop him are fictional, the possibilities of such threats are real.
The counterterrorists are a motley and sometimes contentious group of recruits from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. military. Their agendas and methods differ, but the immediate death threat to the unsuspecting inhabitants of New York and Washington D.C. unifies them into an effective if not always efficient team. They discover the virus when five cases appear of what seems to be an acute and horrifying permutation of a rare neurological dysfunction that induces violent seizures and compulsive self-destruction by chewing on one's own flesh. The virus turns out to be a graft that could only have been produced by artificial means.
The search for the "mad scientist" with equipment capable of this sophisticated work takes weeks during which a handful of people have to live with the secret that a potential pandemic could literally explode in a local subway. The resolution, while in some ways satisfying, hardly dispels the uneasy implications which invite readers not only to serious reflection on our collective attitudes toward weapons research and development, but to activism.
John Rodgers is in his last year in high school in a small northern California town where the majority of the townspeople work in the lumber industry. As the youngest son of a father who was a champion athlete, John has always felt pressured by him to excel in his sport of choice, distance running. His father also wants him to put aside his interest in biology--ecologists are the enemy since they threaten his livelihood by protesting clearcutting of redwoods. John can do neither.
In the middle of his senior year he learns that his father has leukemia and is losing ground rapidly. Never having had a comfortable relationship with him, the illness complicates their relationship which soon becomes even more complicated by John's discovery of a rare species of butterfly in the company woods. Knowing it will alienate him not only from his father but from the whole town, he reports the discovery and takes the consequences; his friends beat him up and he runs away. With the help of a sympathetic biology teacher he returns home to find his way to a "separate peace" with his father and a new, complex understanding of the trade-offs between loyalty and responsibility.
In this memoir Sheed reflects on his experience of three major illnesses: polio; clinical depression, related to alcoholism and sleeping pill addiction; and cancer. He contrasts the incongruous and paradoxical "inner life" of illness, with the often oversimplified prototypical experience represented by AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] literature, various psychiatric orthodoxies, and popular media.
Issues that arise include the tension between medical authority and patient experience, caregivers' and clinicians' projections, friends' and family's misapprehensions, and the surprises, both welcome and horrifying, that occur in the course of treatment and recovery because no illness, mental or physical, follows a textbook format.
The narrative is a wry examination of games patients play as well as a confession, dry and witty but also extraordinarily perceptive, of the failed and false expectations, pretenses, fears, resistances, rage, and qualified pleasures that characterized his personal odysseys through illnesses that have often been simplified and obscured by popular mythmaking.
Nineteen year-old Johnny Dart leaves home one night after arguing with his parents--to locate the best friend of his sister. He needs to talk with her as the only other witness to his sister's death, five years since, when she fell over a cliff on a picnic. Haunted by the thought that he might have saved her, Johnny is also convinced his parents and others think it should have been he, rather than his sister, who died.
He shows up drunk at the home of the friend's parents, only to find that she has moved out. In his nighttime wanderings he encounters a disoriented old woman on the streets and follows her home to a dilapidated and disheveled house which, it turns out, belongs to her, though since she suffers from Alzheimer's disease or a related syndrome, has lapsed into extreme disarray and disrepair. He ends up staying to care for her for several days, during which he also locates the old friend.
In caring for the old woman and conversing with the young woman, Johnny manages to come to terms with his own past, the pain of his own losses, and agrees to talk with his parents and a counselor and reorient himself to the present. In the process he learns a great deal about himself, about how he has projected his own fears and guilt, and how caring for another person can release him from crippling obsessions with his own past.
This lively biography is a work of love based on newspaper accounts and an abundance of local anecdotes about "Doc Susie," Susan Anderson, who received her M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1907, and who maintained a single-handed rural practice in the almost inaccessible heights of the Rockies from shortly after her training was completed to 1956. She lived to tell a great many stories about arduous and ill-equipped visits to out-of-the-way sites in lumber camps and makeshift farmhouses in several feet of snow through dangerous mountain passes.
After her death at the age of 90 in 1960 her survivors added their recollections to the body of lore. An authentic hero tale about what made it worth her while to withstand tuberculosis, unreliable transportation and supplies, impoverished patients, snow, and solitude, this book may remind readers of a quality of "gumption" that is one of the still admirable aspects of the American pioneer legacy.