Showing 211 - 220 of 874 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

The Good Physician

Harrington, Kent

Last Updated: Feb-05-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Spoiler Alert: The ending of this thriller is revealed in the final paragraph of the summary. The threat of terrorism and the moral code of a physician place Dr. Collin Reeves in a very difficult position. The young American doctor is a specialist in parasitology and tropical diseases. He has trained and worked around the world - London, Kuwait, Brazil, and Africa. He presently practices in Mexico City. The U.S. Embassy refers sick American tourists to him. Dr. Reeves is also a CIA operative who enlisted after 9/11 to fight terrorism. After two years as an employee of the U.S. Intelligenge Service, he is disenchanted and wants out. Dr. Reeves is appalled by the brutal handling of terrorist suspects. It is his job to treat them and keep them alive long enough to obtain information or a confession.

Dr. Reeves loves Mexico, painting, and living day to day. He hates arrogance, disease, and human misery. His boss, Alex Law, is the chief of the CIA station in Mexico. He and his pal, Butch Nickels, have been in the spy business a very long time. Law is an alcoholic. His wife finds a lump in her breast that proves to be malignant. Dr. Reeves and his father (a surgeon practicing in San Francisco) arrange treatment for the woman in California where she undergoes a double masectomy.

Law has some clues that a group of al Qaeda in Mexico are plannning an attack. He worries they intend to bomb a city in California. Law's intuition is pretty good. A husband (Mohammad) and wife (Fatima) from Baghdad are set on revenge. Their young son was killed by an American bomb in Iraq. The husband, a physician, was mutilated by the same bomb. Unaware of her true background and her mission of destruction, Dr. Reeves falls in love with the beautiful woman who calls herself Dolores Rios. At one point, he kills a policeman and wounds another to rescue the woman. When her husband is bitten by scorpions, Dr. Reeves saves his life.

Members of the al Qaeda cell eventually capture Dr. Reeves and some of his friends. They plan to crash a stolen airplane into a California city. Dolores has a change of heart, but her husband is intent on revenge and becoming a martyr. Dr. Reeves offers to accompany the terrorists in exchange for Dolores being left behind. Still recovering from the effects of the scorpion bites, Mohammad figures it might be wise to have some medical expertise readily available. Shortly after take-off, Dr. Reeves manages to crash the plane but he is killed by gunfire in the process. The terrorist attack is averted. When Alex Law locates Dolores, he allows her to go free and start a new life. The doctor would have wanted it that way and Law allows him that much.

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Half-Nelson

Fleck, Ryan; Gosling, Ryan; Epps, Shareeka

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson.  The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn.  His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension.  Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world.  As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel.  But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.  

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The Bridge

Steel, Eric

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

After reading Tad Friend's article, "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge" in an October 2003 issue of The New Yorker, filmmaker Eric Steel became so fascinated by the mystery of the final, dark moments of a human being who makes the long journey across the bridge to his or her death that he finagled $100,000 worth of equipment and moved from New York to San Francisco.  At 5:00 AM on a rainy New Year's Day in 2004, Steel and his ragtag crew set up their cameras, beginning a strange year-long vigil.  Training telephoto lenses on the mid-span of the bridge, they peered intently from dawn to dusk, watching for "suspicious behavior" or a "sense of despair" among the crowds passing back and forth.  During that year of filming, twenty-two people ended their lives, some caught on tape and some not; however, six attempts were thwarted by the film crew who became quite adept at indentifying potential victims and alerting the Bridge Patrol. 

Photographed from multiple perspectives, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather, the Golden Gate Bridge is the main character of this documentary film.  It is formidable; it is magnificent; it is ominous; it is alluring.  According to the film:  "More people have chosen to end their lives [here] than anywhere else in the world."  The sublime images not only capture the many facets and features of the structure, but they also illustrate the emotions and represent the psychology of the other narratives intertwined in the film:  the stories of seven individuals who jumped from the bridge during the course of that year.

There is thirty-four year-old Gene, a haunting figure dressed all in black whose story begins and ends the documentary.  Like the film crew, we watch him prowl the bridge day after day, his long dark hair whipping in the wind until he makes that final leap, a dramatic backward dive.  There is forty-four year-old Lisa, who has suffered throughout her adult life with schizophrenia and who disappears off the bridge on Easter Sunday afternoon.  And there is twenty-two year-old Philip whose parents relate the history of their son's struggle with mental illness.

In addition to using footage of the bridge being obscured by fog as an evocative image of the progressive suffocation of self, the filmmaker employs long shots of the island of Alcatraz to symbolize the prison of mental illness.  Indeed, Philip's father describes his son's leap from the bridge as a release, "the only way he could get free."

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Summary:

The film opens with the discovery of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's will in his Transylvanian village. A skeleton, presumably Dr. Frankenstein's, and a man wrestle for the box holding the will. The man wins, takes it to a town meeting where the will is read and calls for the transfer of the property to the dead scientist's grandson, Frederick. Following this scene we meet the grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a surgeon who is busy instructing medical students in clinical neuroanatomy (comparing the brain to a cauliflower). When asked about his grandfather by a medical student, Freddy, who pronounces the family name "Fron kon steen", declares that Victor was "a cuckoo". The student is relentless in pursuing the family ties, exasperating Freddy, who finally plunges a scalpel into his thigh, a sight gag paying homage to Peter Sellers' stabbing himself with a letter opener in A Shot in the Dark (1964). When the courier from Transylvania arrives, he persuades Freddy to return to his ancestral castle for the execution of the will. A hilarious railroad platform scene in which Freddy bids goodbye to his "beautiful, flat-chested" (as described in the online original etext of the script by Gene Wilder) fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), only highlights the incredibly neurotic natures of the two lovers -- Wilder as a possessed but wacky scientist and Kahn as a narcissistic and apparently remote and shallow woman.

In Transylvania, Freddy and the viewers meet the remainder of the major characters. Inga (Teri Garr), a bosomy and mindless but beautiful and dedicated blonde, escorts him to the castle, where he meets the hunchback Igor, played by the incomparable Marty Feldman, who instructs Freddy, with one of the lines all Young Frankenstein addicts love to quote, to "walk this way", by which he means with a limp and a cane, not directions to anywhere at all. After remarking that the huge castle doors have huge knockers (which they do) -- which Teri Garr winsomely mistakes for a compliment on her equally huge knockers -- Freddy and his entourage enter the castle and meet Frau Blücher (played magnificently by Cloris Leachman), the spinster who keeps the castle, nourishing an undying flame for Freddy's dead grandfather. Soon Freddy and Inga discover, by means of a secret passageway behind a  -- surprise! surprise! -- revolving bookcase wall in Freddy's room, his grandfather's hidden subterranean laboratory (Brooks used the same electrical apparatus as the 1931 Frankenstein film) and scientific journals. With the materials and methods now at hand, Freddy undergoes a spiritual transformation, embracing his forebear's obsession with creating life from dead bodies, rejecting his earlier rejection of Victor's work as "Doo-Doo!".

At this juncture we move into the scientific creation mode and of course meet the Monster, exuberantly portrayed by the talented Peter Boyle. When Igor tries to steal a brain from a neighboring morgue there occurs the infamous mix-up of an "Abnormal" brain (labelled "DO NOT USE THIS BRAIN!") for the intended brain of H. Delbrück ("the finest natural philosopher, internal medicine diagnostician and chemical therapist of this century" and also the author of 17 cookbooks) making at least this viewer wonder if Mel Brooks had in mind a real scientific genius, Max Delbrück, who had received, only 5 years before, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his work on bacteriophages.

The predicted spoofs ensue: the actual process of transforming the very large corpse of Peter Boyle into the very large body of the living Monster (with Inga remarking, after Freddy states that for the experiment to be a success, the monster must have enlarged body parts, that he "vould have an enormous schwanzstucker" -- a pseudo-German/Yiddish word that everyone in the audience immediately comprehends); the inclusion of Gene Wilder's rendition of the legendary exclamation, "It's alive!" by Colin Clive in the 1931 Frankenstein; the monster's mercurial disposition; the wildly comic scene with the Monster meeting the Blind Man (Gene Hackman); the Monster's fascination with music and antipathy to fire -- they all give rise to set pieces of Brooks's unique mix of lowbrow comedy with intellectual puns, Yiddish asides and the ubiquitous combination of visual and physical jokes.

After Elizabeth unexpectedly arrives in Transylvania we witness an apparently unlikely, and therefore uproariously believable, liaison with the Monster outside the castle, with Madeline Kahn eventually taking on the classic Marge Simpson type hairdo of Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. The last important scene before the ending involves Freddy nostalgically summoning the Monster back to his natal castle for a transference of Freddy's calm brain to the Monster's. The ending, with the Monster a fully acculturated and now sophisticated man about town, and with Freddy and Inga still in love in Transylvania, is a brilliant win-win result for Freddy, Inga, Elizabeth and the Monster, although hardly predictable. Without giving away too much of the denouement, suffice it to say that the movie ends on a high note transforming, as it were, a linguistic pun into a musical one.

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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The Human Stain

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Dec-04-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Human Stain is the third of Philip Roth's trilogy of novels that explore the relationship between public and private life in America during the second half of the 20th century. As in American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's favorite alter ego, serves as the narrator. After a prostate operation rendered him impotent, Zuckerman has retired from the world to become writer in residence at idyllic Athena College.

There he meets Coleman Silk, a former dean and classics professor who was forced to resign because of a supposed racial slur, in which he asked whether two students who had registered for his course but never attended a lecture were "spooks." They were African-Americans. Hence, political correctness dictated that Silk's academic career was history.

Zuckerman enters the scene a couple of years later, when the septuagenarian Silk is having an affair with an illiterate college janitor. This liaison has revitalized the old professor, whose wife died during the period of disgrace after his "racism" was exposed. However, Silk's enemies at the college, led by a bitterly proper young deconstructionist, have gone on the warpath again, this time condemning him for exploiting the young janitor.

The real story, though, lies deep in Coleman Silk's past. We eventually learn that Silk is a light skinned African-American who gradually drifted across the American racial divide and for 50 years has successfully passed as a white Jew. The irony in this situation is complex. A black man thought by the world to be Jewish is publicly disgraced for uttering the word "spook" in its correct denotation. (This is reminiscent of a case a few years ago in which a public official in the United States was chastised for using the word "niggardly" with reference to an inadequate budget allocation.)

The situation is doubly ironic because Silk has chosen to live his life as a white man, thereby in a sense establishing his own racism. Silk's original goal had been to live as an individual, and not as a representative of his race, but in choosing to deny his roots, perhaps Coleman Silk's guilt is deeper and more complex than his pursuers at Athena College realize.

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Something for the Pain

Austin, Paul

Last Updated: Sep-29-2008
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

After several years as a firefighter, Paul Austin decided to return to school and become a doctor.  Both his training as firefighter and a somewhat late start at medical school gave him an unusual perspective on his selected specialty-emergency medicine.  The book chronicles a wide variety of surprises, learning moments, and challenges from his years in the emergency room.  These are interspersed with vignettes about the interrupted home life of an emergency physician rotating into night duty three to four times a month.  The pace is lively and the stories confessional in the best sense-rich with reflection on what he has learned, often at great cost to his resilient wife and three children, one with Down syndrome.  A strong theme in the book is the importance of developing strategies for sustaining humanity and compassion even under intense pressure to be quick, clinical, and detached. 

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The Ballad of Typhoid Mary

Federspiel, J. F.

Last Updated: Jul-21-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel's narrator is a widowed 58-year-old Swiss-born physician, Howard J. Rageet, who lives in New York City. His son is a pediatrician, his daughter a medical student. Rageet himself is terminally ill. He is writing a "little biography," of Mary Mallon, the infamous "healthy carrier" also known as Typhoid Mary. Rageet's grandfather, also a doctor, had kept a journal about Mary and his rivalry with his friend, (the real) George A. Soper, whose life's work became tracking Mary and proving that she was responsible for the typhoid outbreaks. Elaborating on the journal, Rageet recounts Mary's life in America.

Born Maria Anna Caduff in the same part of Switzerland as Rageet's ancestors, she arrives in New York Harbor in 1868, aged 13, on a crowded immigrant ship, a fifth of whose passengers had died en route from Europe. The dead include Mary's family. She had been taken care of by the ship's cook, who evidently both taught her to cook and used her for sex. When the ship docks, Mary tries to jump overboard, but is stopped by a physician, Dorfheimer, who smuggles her through Ellis Island and takes her home with him. He is also a pedophile, and he has sex with her. Rageet calls this kidnapping a "humane, benevolent crime." Not long after, Dorfheimer dies of typhoid fever.

Rageet's "ballad" then traces Mary's various positions as a cook (and, often, sexual object), most of which end quickly when the household is infected. She has two relationships that do not lead to the disease. One is with a small girl who has Down Syndrome. Once her connection to typhoid is suspected, the child's family hire Mary to live alone with the child and care for her, hoping the child will be infected and die. The child never becomes ill. The other is with a disillusioned anarchist, Chris Cramer. She lives with him and falls in love with him, but he is not sexually interested in her.

Soper encounters Mary when he is asked by a wealthy Oyster Bay family, her former employers, to investigate a typhoid outbreak in their household. He manages to track her down and eventually, after much resistance, she is arrested, tested, and quarantined. She escapes and continues to work as a cook until her re-arrest. Promising to try and imagine Mary's motives, Rageet breaks off his narrative. He is dying. The novel ends with a postscript written by Rageet's daughter. Implying that her father committed suicide, she tells of Mary's stroke and the last years of her life as a paraplegic, and she provides a final document, the menu for one of the very elaborate meals Mary would have cooked.

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Summary:

A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

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The Undertaking

Navasky, Miri; O'Connor, Karen

Last Updated: Jun-26-2008
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

"Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople. Another two or three dozen I take to the crematory to be burned.... I sell caskets, burial vaults, and urns for the ashes.... I am the only undertaker in this town." The speaker is Thomas Lynch, a poet, writer and funeral director in Milford, a small town in central Michigan, where he and his family have cared for the dead and the living for three generations. The words are the introduction to a documentary film which was written, produced and directed by Miri Navansky and Karen O'Connor for PBS Frontline and which is a visual, aural and dramatic companion to Lynch's award-winning collection of essays, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).

Although Lynch's poetic sentiments and philosophical observations about our own cultural estrangement from death ("We're among the first generations for whom the presence of the dead at their own funeral has become optional....") and about the crucial importance of our accompanying the dead ("In getting them where they need to be, we get where we need to be....") are a significant feature of the film, he himself is not the focus of the film. Rather, he serves as both guide and chorus through the stories of four individuals and families: Robert Kelly, eighty-five, who is planning his own funeral in meticulous detail; Anne Beardsley whose beloved Aunt Mary, eighty-four, is now facing death as boldly as she lived life; David King who is skeptical about the meaningfulness of bearing witness at his father's cremation; Nevada and Anthony Verrino who are the parents of a two-year old son born with and dying from a rare genetic condition.

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