Showing 211 - 220 of 1213 Fiction annotations

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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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Murder in Byzantium

Kristeva, Julia

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Clever, investigative journalist Stephanie Delacourt is sent from Paris to the mythical Santa Varvara to cover police inspector, Northrop Rilsky, in his quest to solve a series of high profile murders with political overtones. The back of each victim is “signed” with a carved figure 8 (or infinity?). At the same time, the distinguished historian Sebastian Chrest-Jones (CJ) disappears. Unbeknownst to everyone but the reader, he has just murdered his Chinese mistress, who is pregnant with his child.

Anxious that CJ has come to harm, his wife appeals to Rilksy, drawing on the connection that he is a step-relation of the missing man. She has been conducting an affair with CJ’s assistant who soon becomes another corpse signed with an 8. Suspicions fall on CJ.

Distracted from the murders she was to cover, Stephanie becomes increasingly involved in CJ’s historical research on the first crusade and the twelfth-century Anna Comnena, considered Europe’s first woman historian. In tracing the connections that CJ has drawn between Anna Comnena and one of his own (and Rilsky’s) ancestors she “derives” his obsessions and his likely whereabouts.

Late discovery of mistress’s corpse offers bizarre genetic clues about the identity of the serial killer and the paternity of the child, again tying the two mysteries into one. A thrilling climax is set in monastery of Notre Dame du Puy en Velay.

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The Good Priest's Son

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Mar-23-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mabry Kincaid, a New York art conservator is flying home on September 11, 2001, when news comes to him on the plane of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Unable to return to his apartment in the city, he decides to visit his aging father, an Episcopal priest, in his boyhood home in North Carolina. There he meets Audrey, an African-American seminary student in her forties, who has moved in to care for his disabled father.  In the ensuing weeks Mabry is led to reflect deeply not only on the fate of the country and of his career, but on how his father's apparently final illness compels him to come to new terms with their constrained relationship. The death of the brother Mabry always believed to be the favorite has left a painful chasm between father and son, made more so by his father's own admission of favoritism.

At the same time Mabry is coming to terms with his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and with the grief he continues to process since his wife's death from cancer.  Audrey and her son bring a new dimension to the life of the household and a widened sense of family to the two men as they struggle to lay the past to rest and to accept the radical uncertainties of the personal and national future. One interesting subplot involves Mabry's discovery of what is reputed to be a minor, uncatalogued Van Gogh painting, covered by the work of another artist, that he has brought home for his employer, now dead, and his musings about what to do with this undocumented treasure.  The question remains open for symbolic reflection as he leaves it behind in North Carolina and returns to New York for a very different kind of life than the one he left. 

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Deenie

Blume, Judy

Last Updated: Mar-14-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Deenie is an attractive seventh-grader whose mother, determined that her good looks not be wasted, is pushing her toward modeling. When she tries out for the cheerleading team, however, Deenie's gym teacher notices her slightly crooked posture and refers her to an orthopedist who diagnoses adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Both Deenie and her mother are horrified. Deenie decides an operation to "fix it" is the lesser of two evils when the alternative is to wear a brace for four years, but the doctor assures her the brace is the appropriate treatment.

Wearing the brace, initially merely a source of embarrassment, frustration, and anger, gradually makes Deenie aware of other kids with whom she has avoided contact because of various "handicaps." Her relationships within the family and among friends shift because of this new self-awareness and of others' varied capacities to accommodate to her new limitations.

The most gratifying discovery for her is that the boy with whom she has been developing a first romance does not find the brace a barrier either to friendship or to the tentative intimacies of early love. The subtheme of developing sexuality complements the novel's focus on body image as a crucial aspect of adolescent psychology.

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Cutting for Stone

Verghese, Abraham

Last Updated: Mar-08-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ethiopia, 1954. Twin boys conjoined at the head survive a surgical separation and a gruesome C-section delivery. Their mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, does not. The Carmelite nun, a native of India, dies in the same place where she worked as a nurse - the operating room of a small hospital in Addis Ababa. The facility is dubbed Missing Hospital, and it is staffed by some remarkable people.

Thomas Stone is a British general surgeon. The only thing that he loves more than medicine is Sister Praise. When she dies during childbirth, he has a meltdown - abruptly fleeing the hospital and leaving Africa. Although Thomas Stone is the father of the twins, he blames the babies for the nun's death. Decades later, he is working at a prestigious medical center in Boston where he specializes in hepatic surgery and research on liver transplantation. The twins are raised by two physicians at Missing Hospital - Dr. Ghosh and Dr. Hemlatha (Hema) - who get married. Hema is an obstetrician-gynecologist. Ghosh is an internist who becomes the hospital's surgeon by necessity after Thomas Stone departs.

The fate of the twin boys, Marion Stone and Shiva Stone, is sculpted by their experiences at Missing Hospital and the growing pains of Ethiopia. The African nation is full of possibilities and mayhem. Both boys are highly intelligent and unusually bonded. Shiva is eccentric and empathic. Although he never attends medical school, Ghosh and Hema train him. Shiva becomes a world authority on treating vaginal fistulas. Marion narrates the story. He is repeatedly hurt by love. The girl of his dreams, Genet, opts to have her first sexual encounter with Shiva. Genet plays a role in hijacking an airplane and rebels against the Ethiopian government. Although innocent, Marion comes under suspicion because of her actions. He escapes the country for his own safety.

Like his father, Marion lands in America. He completes his residency training as a trauma surgeon in New York. He locates his biological father but reconciliation is difficult for both men. Genet has also come to America. She shows up at Marion's apartment, and they have sexual intercourse. Genet exposes him to tuberculosis and Hepatitis B. Marion delevelops liver failure due to hepatitis. He is going to die. Shiva and Hema travel to New York to be with Marion. Shiva proposes an experimental treatment for his brother - a living donor liver transplantation. After all, there is no better organ donor than an identical twin. Thomas Stone performs the operation along with one of Marion's coleagues. The surgery is successful. Then Shiva has bleeding in his brain and dies. Marion returns to Ethiopia and Missing Hospital. Half a century removed from his birth, Marion is back at home and still conected to his twin brother. The lobe of liver donated by Shiva is functioning perfectly.

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Strangers on a Train

Highsmith, Patricia

Last Updated: Feb-13-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Up-and-coming architect, Guy Haines, is traveling to Texas to obtain a divorce from Miriam, pregnant with another man’s child. He has nothing but contempt for her and cannot wait to begin a new life with more sophisticated and loving Anne. On the train, he meets slender, disturbing Charles Bruno, who hates his father. With a lot of booze Bruno goads Guy into confessing his hatred for Miriam. Bruno then proposes a double murder plot, where each would kill the other’s problem.  Appalled, Guy leaves, forgetting his book of Plato.

Not ten days later while vacationing with Anne’s family in Mexico, Guy learns from his anxious mother that Miriam has been murdered. Increasingly tormented that the unstable character on the train may have actually done it, Guy finds his life unraveling as Bruno mails evidence that he is Miriam’s killer, threatens to expose Guy as the instigator, and leaves anonymous letters for Anne. Guy’s work suffers. He drinks heavily and slowly sinks into a state where he realizes his only salvation is to kill Bruno’s father according to the precise plans that have repeatedly been sent. He does.

Guy’s career seems to pick up. But Bruno cannot leave him alone. He turns up uninvited at Guy’s wedding and insinuates himself menacingly into his married life. Guy is miserable, but plays along, aware that he has an impulse to defend Bruno as well as himself. He tells many lies and is wracked with guilt. Anne is worried and suspicious. The two men are bound by their secret, which encompasses a kind of animal attraction rooted in the sensation of having taken a life.

Things could continue indefinitely but for Gerard, the persistent but clever detective who worked for Guy’s father. Having known Bruno for years, he already suspects him of his father’s murder; then he finds Guy’s Plato. To say any more would spoil the gripping conclusion.

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Hotel du Lac

Brookner, Anita

Last Updated: Feb-12-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pseudonymic writer of romantic novels, Edith arrives at her Swiss hotel on lac Leman. She had been sent by friends to extract her from a situation, which at first is not clear.  The month ahead looks bleak and long.

With a keen eye, she observes her fellow guests, almost all female: beautiful, slender Monica with an eating disorder masked as indulgence of her tiny dog; a deaf, lame dowager ousted from her own home by a churlish daughter-in-law; a narcissistic mother and daughter whose amiable but inane conversation slowly begins to engulf Edith. These encounters ought to be fodder for her writing and they lead Edith to contemplate her own relationships with parents, aunts, women, men, and love.

Part of the narrative is conveyed in detailed letters to “dearest David,” letters that, we later learn, are never sent. Edith and David must be lovers, but soon it emerges that he is married and intent on staying that way; their affair is secret – possibly even to David. Even later, the reader discovers that Edith was on the verge of marriage to sensible, kind, older Geoffrey. But at the last minute, she left him literally standing at the altar--to his horror and that of those friends who have since packed her off to Switzerland.

A well turned out, wealthy male guest appears on the scene, Phillip Neville. He guesses Edith’s identity and challenges her to be less romantic and more selfish. He points out the value of marriage in terms of career, social standing, and simple companionship. Then he startles her by proposing. No love exists between them, they both admit. Nevertheless, Edith is on the verge of accepting his offer and his crass, unromantic view of the world, when a tedious, banal observation changes everything. She opts for freedom in romantic solitude.

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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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Beat the Reaper

Bazell, Josh

Last Updated: Jan-26-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pietro Brnwa, nicknamed "The Bearclaw," has embraced change - a new name, a different occupation, and a regenerated outlook. Thanks to the Federal Witness Protection Program, Pietro, who was formerly employed as a hitman by a mafia-connected lawyer, is now Dr. Peter Brown, an intern in the Department of Internal Medicine at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. His career as an assassin was motivated by the desire to avenge the murder of the grandparents who raised him. As a physician, Dr. Brown is paying off a moral debt - doing good deeds to atone for previous acts of violence including killing people.

Unfortunately, life doesn't get any easier for the hit man-turned-physician. Trouble stalks him and finds him. Everyone he loves is lost. In addition to the death of his grandparents, Dr. Brown's girlfriend, Magdalene, is gunned down in a car. His former best friend, "Skinflick" is thrown out of a window of a six-story building, survives, and is later stabbed to death by Dr. Brown.

Life might have been easier if Dr. Brown had not been recognized by a mafia acquaintance named Nicholas LoBrutto who is a patient in Manhattan Catholic Hospital. LoBrutto has stomach cancer and threatens to squeal to Dr. Brown's former crime boss. If Dr. Brown cannot keep LoBrutto alive, the mafia will be notified where to find the physician and he will be eliminated. Dr. Brown assists during LoBrutto's surgery but the mobster experiences ventricular fibrillation postoperatively. Dr. Brown's two medical students mistakenly administer intravenous potassium and LoBrutto dies.

A group of thugs quickly infiltrate the hospital and it appears likely that Dr. Brown will be exterminated. He risks his life to prevent a young woman from having her leg amputated for an erroneous diagnosis. The thugs capture Dr. Brown and detain him in the blood bank freezer. He removes a piece of bone from his own lower leg (an autofibulectomy) to use as a weapon and proceeds to kill the entire gang of murderers. Dr. Brown is sure to be dismissed from Manhattan Catholic Hospital but realizes there is still much he hopes to accomplish as a physician. With some help from friends in the Witness Protection Program (and a likely sequel to this novel on the horizon), it's a good bet that Dr. Brown is not likely to retire his stethoscope (or firearms) anytime soon.

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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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