Showing 201 - 210 of 1212 Fiction annotations

The Wall of the Plague

Brink, Andre

Last Updated: Aug-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

South Africans, Paul and Andrea, are lovers living in France. Paul is fiftyish and white; Andrea is thirty and “coloured.” He has just asked her to marry him. She travels to Provence ostensibly to research sites for a film to be based on Paul’s endlessly forthcoming novel about fourteenth-century plague. But the real reason for the journey is to test her feelings about his proposal—she is leaning to ‘yes.’

As five days roll by, she relives the trajectory of her life: her impoverished parents, her thwarted education, her angry, imprisoned brother, and the previous affair with Brian, a British historian with whom she was captured ‘in flagrante,’ sent to trial, found guilty, and offered prison or voluntary exile. Brian and Andrea left South Africa together, but their relationship eventually crumbled. She had trouble understanding his passion for the past and his love of detail.

In Provence, Andrea avoids places that Paul had wanted her to go, finding strength in solitude and independence. But that feeling is shattered when he asks her to rescue their penniless, black friend, Mandla, an anti-apartheid activist who has been betrayed by a comrade who turned out to be a spy.

Andrea doesn’t like Mandla, his sanctimonious accusations, arrogance, and probing. He is a racist and a male chauvinist, given to violence. But his constant questioning finally unleashes deeper memories of the shocking abuses of her life in apartheid South Africa—memories she has suppressed or attempted to blame on class struggle rather than racial intolerance. She tries to provoke his empathy with the terrible tragedy of the long ago plague. He resists, being concerned far more with the present, but he relents a little and begins to see racism as a plague and walls as feeble, futile attempts to exclude others.

Andrea falls for Mandla, makes love with him near the plague wall, and decides to refuse Paul and return to South Africa. But Mandla rejects a future with her because he wants no vulnerability in his struggle. He is killed in the night by a car. Was the death deliberate? accidental? suicide? Andrea leaves anyway.

In a short second part, Paul writes to Andrea of his own growing doubts about their future together despite his love.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Late in the twentieth century, the young doctor Goodheart fails in a city practice and accepts a salaried position in the country.  Even there his difficulties persist. A challenging patient—the Reverend Pastor--refuses a tiny muscle biopsy that would not only confirm the diagnosis of trichinosis, but establish the doctor’s reputation. “I would rather die than let myself be skewered alive!” the pastor shouts (p. 11).

Deeply discouraged Goodheart wanders into the country at twilight, sighing, “If only there were a means of making the human body as transparent as jelly fish” (p. 13). Suddenly a woman appears in a blaze of light. She is “Electra the spirit of the twentieth century” (p. 15). She gives the astonished doctor a box and bids him open the lid. The nearby tree immediately becomes “as transparent as a jelly fish” (p.17). Next the box, judiciously aimed, illuminates the inner workings of a frog.

Goodheart applies his box to the ailing pastor and sees parasites teaming throughout his body. Then he effects a dramatic cure with helminthotoxin made from the worms themselves—a treatment that had been invented sometime during the century.

The box proves to be a simple electrical device, easily replicated. Declining financial recognition, to the vexation of his wife, Goodheart communicates the workings of the box to the world with no mention of Electra. But fame and riches flow his way and he dies in old age an honored man.

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The Hospital for Bad Poets

Hallman, J. C.

Last Updated: Jul-09-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Two months after he starts writing poetry, the narrator collapses. The maid finds him on the floor. An ambulance arrives at the scene. Two EMT's - Mike and Bob - check the condition of the novice poet. Their assessment includes the patient's orientation, his chief complaint, his favorite form of poem (the sonnet), and the last time he used iambic pentameter. Mike reads the poet's unfinished villanelle that remains stuck in a Smith Corona typewriter. The EMT deems it awful. The ambulance crew generates a list of possible diagnoses that includes an aneurysm in the language center of the brain and (more plausibly) writer's block. The duo decide that the narrator requires evaluation in the hospital for bad poets. All of their ambulance patients receive supplemental oxygen during transport. Every poet additionally gets a copy of verse by Rainer Maria Rilke to read during the trip.

The hospital for bad poets is a teaching hospital. A swarm of medical students participate in the evaluation of the narrator. His working diagnosis is "chronic acuteness." A young physician, Dr. Krupp, takes charge of the case. He also reads the narrator's incomplete poem and agrees with the opinion of Mike the EMT. The poem stinks. Dr. Krupp listens to the narrator's breath sounds and commands him to recite poetry during the examination. The physician announces, "Poetry is the equivalent of ventilation. Poets breathe for one another, they breathe for all of us" [p 147]. Dr. Krupp decides that the narrator's problem is serious enough to warrant hospital admission for one week's worth of observation. The doctor then scurries off to treat another poet whose situation is much more serious than the narrator's.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In the time of house calls, the doctor-narrator is summoned to care for an ailing newborn. He discovers hospital-caused diarrhea and a severe congenital heart problem that can't be fixed. He also discovers the baby's fifteen-year-old sister, who has a bad case of acne and a direct, no-nonsense style that he finds very attractive.

The narrator's colleagues ridicule his interest in a family consisting of alcoholic and deceptive parents and a daughter who is not only chronically truant but notoriously promiscuous sexually. (To the narrator's enthusiasm about the young girl, his wife responds, "What! another?") In spite of these warnings, the narrator returns several times, probably without compensation, to check on the baby's diarrhea and feeding and to help the girl with her complexion.

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A Face of Stone

Williams, William Carlos

Last Updated: Jul-08-2009
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The overworked doctor-narrator finds himself extremely irritated by the requests of a poor immigrant couple in their twenties to examine their infant. He spouts an alarming number of cultural and economic prejudices and tries to avoid seeing them. They persist, however, and the doctor examines the child, whom he finds healthy. The husband then asks if the doctor can examine his wife. The doctor flashes his anger again but agrees.

He finds her legs extremely bowed, probably from severe childhood rickets, and asks the husband about her history. It turns out that she had grown up in Poland during World War I and had lost all her family. As he hears of the woman's suffering, the doctor becomes empathetic, suddenly understanding the couples' fearful tenacity which had so annoyed him before. The woman responds in kind, and the doctor-patient relationship changes significantly for the better.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the 1527 sack of Rome, undiscplined troops of the Holy Roman Emperor rape, pillage, and destroy. The beautiful couresan Fiammetta Bianchini opens her house to the marauders, inviting them inside for food and comfort. The act gives her household a moment’s reprieve. Her golden tresses savagely shorn, she swallows her jewels and escapes north to her native Venice in the company of her servant and companion, the dwarf, Bucino Teodoldi.

Arriving with almost nothing, they set about establishing a reputation and securing backers. The small company is helped by Fiammetta’s friend and admirer the satirist and poet, Pietro Aretino. Her portrait is painted by his friend, Titian.

Clever and loyal to a fault, Bucino frets over finances and willingly engages in subterfuges that mesmerize their audiences. Fiammetta accepts the attentions of tedious but wealthy admirers in exchange for a house and status. She comes to rely on a blind woman healer, called La Draga who supplies medicine and cosmetics. Bucino is suspicious and jealous, but he tolerates the competition grudingly. He too has many ailments, including headaches and arthritis, because of his deformity.

Suspense swirls around a banned book, a Jewish shopkeeper, and La Draga’s mysterious origins in the glass-making town of Murano.

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Mr. Pip

Jones, Lloyd

Last Updated: Jul-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Thirteen-year-old Matilda lives on a south Pacific island with copper mines. Rebels and other more official warriors are tearing the place apart. A blockade has made resources scarce and communication impossible; fathers are absent at distant work. Along with everything else, the local school collapses. 

Mr. Watts, the only island white man, offers to take over the education of the children, but he has no experience, few materials and just one book: his treasured copy of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. He begins reading a few pages every day. Captivated by the story, the children repeat it to their mothers when they go home each night.  

Matilda believes that she loves Mr. Dickens more than anyone else and she is both bemused and irritated by her stern mother's suspicion of the strange, possibly godless, white man and her feigned disinterest in Pip. Parents are invited to the school to pass on their own expectations about learning. Students accept these moments with pride and embarrassment.

The political chaos deepens, homes are destroyed, and the book vanishes. But Watts (nicknamed Mr. Pip) turns the loss to advantage by helping the students to recover fragments in a lengthy effort of collective recollection.

The ever menacing warriors return. Little more than frightened children in an incomprehensible conflict, they indulge in senseless brutality and killing. With courage absorbed from her mother, Matilda escapes, rediscovers her father, and finds a scholarly future—a life she embraces because of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Pip.

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Deaf Sentence

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Jun-08-2009
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Desmond Bates is a retired professor of linguistics who lives with his second wife, "Fred," in a "northern" British town. He is becoming increasingly deaf, and, although he wears hearing aids (except when he doesn't), his social interactions--even those with Fred--are fraught with difficulty and occasional hilarious misunderstandings. His deafness is at the center of the novel, providing the title of this work of fiction, but also serving as an extended, often funny, but ultimately serious impetus to riff on aging, disability, and mortality. "Deafness is a kind of pre-death, a drawn-out introduction to the long silence into which we will all eventually lapse" (19).

Bates is at loose ends. His wife is busy with her successful interior decorating business, his adult children live elsewhere. He considers himself a "house husband" and does not really enjoy it. His aged, widowed father insists on living alone in London although he cannot be trusted to take care of himself without endangering his life (such as starting a fire in the kitchen during meal preparation). Bates visits him dutifully once a month with a mixture of dread, obligation, and guilty relief when it is over.

Desmond's hearing difficulty and boredom set him up for an encounter with a female graduate student and its unexpected complications. She is working on a thesis about suicide. Their interaction is threaded throughout the book and drives the "plot," but the details of life with hearing impairment, loss of professional involvement and purpose, and coping with an old, stubborn parent who is slipping into dementia are the main events of this clever, well-written, entertaining novel. And along the way are witty commentaries on contemporary life. The link between the narrator's profession of linguistics and his difficulty hearing the spoken word are also significant.

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The Kite Runner

Hosseini, Khaled

Last Updated: Apr-16-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In his debut novel, Dr. Khaled Hosseini tells a tale that begins in his homeland, Afghanistan, and ends in his adopted country, the United States. Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant, narrates the story. Amir and his father, Baba, are attended by two Hazara servants, Ali and his hare-lipped son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan are friends, but Amir is troubled by a guilty conscience over multiple slights and sly insults aimed at Hassan. The burden of guilt intensifies over an incident at a kite-flying contest when Amir is twelve years old.

Kite flying in Afghanistan is an intricate affair involving glass-embedded string that contestants use to slice the strings of other kites. The winner is not only the one with the last kite flying, but also the one who catches the last cut kite--the kite runner. At the close of the contest, Amir witnesses the traumatization of his friend Hassan, the finest kite runner, at the hands of an evil youth, Assef. Too shamed to help Hassan, Amir is nearly swallowed by his cowardice: the rest of the story follows the consequences of his guilt.

Amir and Baba emigrate to the United States during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Amir, as a young adult, returns during the Taliban regime in order to redeem himself and help Hassan's son. The story is filled with plot twists and revelations of secrets and hidden relationships, which enable Amir to confront some of his shortcomings. The oppression, torture, and murder of Afghanis by the Taliban are graphically depicted.

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Machine

Adolphsen, Peter

Last Updated: Apr-09-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

In the early Eocene period, a small horse (Eohippus) accidentally dies in the depths of a lake. Over time, the body of the mare decays. Heat and pressure convert the remains of the animal into oil. Thousands of feet beneath the surface of Utah and millions of years later, that oil is tapped. As it travels through a pipeline, a nearby worker is injured. As a result of the accident, the man loses part of his arm.

The worker, Djamolidine Hasanov, was born in Azerbaijan. Before coming to the United States, he changed his name to Jimmy Nash. As a boy, he loved to bicycle. As an adult in America, his pastimes include drinking beer and writing haiku. After he is injured at work, Jimmy becomes a drifter and lives off his disability benefits.

The oil derived from the matter of the prehistoric horse continues its journey through time and space. It is refined into gasoline and transported to a gas station in Austin, Texas. On June 23, 1975, some of that gasoline is pumped into the tank of a Ford Pinto. One drop of the fuel comes from the once-pumping heart of the ancient equine.

The car is driven by Clarissa Sanders, a college student who is enthralled by biology and genetics. Later that day, she picks up a hitchhiker on a highway leading to San Antonio. The man has an accent and is missing his lower right arm. Jimmy Nash shares some LSD with Clarissa. He even drives her automobile. On the same day, Clarissa inhales some soot particles emitted in the car's exhaust fumes. They contain a carcinogen - benzapyrene. Thirty years later, she is diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung. Three months after receiving the diagnosis, Clarissa dies.

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