Showing 221 - 230 of 361 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Saturday

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Sep-13-2005
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel spans one day in the life of a London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. It is set on a specific day, Saturday, February 15, 2003, when mass demonstrations were held in London protesting the coming war on Iraq. This actual historical and geographical context colors the fictional narrative, told entirely from the point of view of Perowne, who wakes in the early hours of the morning to see a burning aircraft descending towards Heathrow. Although this turns out not to be a terrorist attack, as Perowne at first fears, it sets up the book's atmosphere of foreboding and the powerful contrast between dangerous world events and Perowne's essentially happy family.

The Perownes are all talented and successful and fond of each other. Henry's wife, Rosalind, is a media lawyer; their son, Theo, a blues guitarist; and their daughter, Daisy, a published poet. This Saturday's highlight is to be a family dinner, where it is expected that Daisy and her grandfather, John Grammaticus, a famous poet, will reconcile after an argument.

Henry is on the way to his morning squash game when he is involved in a minor car accident with a dubious character named Baxter. He escapes theft and a beating by realizing that Baxter suffers from Huntington's Disease. He tells Baxter the diagnosis and offers hope of a non-existent treatment, shifting the power base of the encounter from brawn to brain and humiliating Baxter in front of his cronies. (This part of the novel was published in the New Yorker as a short story, The Diagnosis. See the annotation in this database for a more detailed account.)

Henry then plays an aggressive game of squash with Jay Strauss, his American colleague, and they discuss the Middle East and the impending war. He buys seafood at the market for the evening's dinner, and he goes to the nursing home to visit his mother, Lily, who has multiple-infarct dementia. He listens to his son's band, goes home and cooks dinner. He argues with Daisy, his daughter, just come from the protest march, about the coming war.

When the family is gathered for dinner, Rosalind returns from work and Baxter and his henchmen force their way into the house. They threaten Rosalind with a knife, break Grammaticus's nose, and force Daisy to strip, at which point Perowne realizes his daughter is pregnant. Then Daisy recites poetry--Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"--and, unlikely as it is, the effect of the poem is to distract Baxter enough that Perowne is able to lure him upstairs with the promise of more information on treating Huntington's, and he and Theo then throw Baxter down the stairs. Baxter is taken away in an ambulance, and later Perowne is called in to operate on his brain. The novel ends with Perowne back in bed with his wife.

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Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This very short story is told from the point of view of an adult child who has just learned that his (or her) father has been taken to the hospital for angina pectoris. The narrator recounts in a telegraphic form what it is like finding his (her) way through the hospital to the doctor and finding out the verdict about the father's condition.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In 1950 London, lower middle-class (but upper middle- aged) Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) devotes herself to family and "helping" others. With empathic cheeriness, she visits shut-ins, provides tea for the bedridden, feeds lonely men, and "brings on their bleeding" for girls in trouble. She also tends her cantankerous, ailing mother, who has never revealed the identity of Vera’s father.

The men in Vera’s life are bruised and confused by end of the war. Exuding affection, she cooks, irons, sews, and listens to their litanies of loss and derring-do. Her son, Sid, is an extroverted clothing salesman and her dowdy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly), is a pathologically shy factory-worker; neither seems adequate for the task of living alone. But Vera and her husband, Stan (Phil Davis), are happy in each other, their offspring, and their modest existence.

Only the friend, Nellie, knows of the help for young girls. She extracts a secret two-guinea fee for advising the girl, but Vera receives not a penny. Over the years, the two women have solved problems for mothers with too many children, mothers with no man, and mothers who were raped. They also safely abort insouciant party girls who are blas?about men, sex, and consequences.

But a young girl falls seriously ill following an abortion and is sent to hospital. Under pressure from police, the girl’s mother divulges Vera’s name. The police barge in to arrest her just as the Drake family celebrates Ethel’s engagement to one of the lonely men, Reg (Eddie Marsan).

The criminal charges come as a complete surprise to the family. Sid seethes with anger and disbelief, but Stan’s implicit faith in his wife brings him and the others to support her through the long trial. The judge hands her a stiff thirty-month sentence intended "as a deterrent." But in prison, Vera meets two other abortionists who tell her that she is lucky: both are serving much longer, second sentences, because their "girls" had died.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Twelve-year-old Lily Star has lost her father and moved from a cabin in the woods on the river where she grew up fishing with her father, and where she knew the natural creatures as neighbors, to an apartment in the nearby city where she and her mother continue to run the family hardware store. While she still loves the river, she finds it hard to "forgive" it because it drowned her father in a boating accident. She also resents the fact that an important stretch of land along the river is being fenced off by the man to whom the cabin was sold--T.R.--a recluse in a wheelchair. Through a series of unpleasant encounters, Lily gets to know him and learns that he had been a pilot and was disabled in an accident.

The bond the two discover over time has to do with somewhat parallel paths of healing: he needs to "forgive" the sky as she does the river. She persuades him eventually to go boating with her. Even a fall in the water doesn't discourage him from taking on new life and hope by accepting Lily's invitations to get to know the river, the land, and the neighbors. Lily's hopes that he might remain and marry her mother are disappointed when he decides to return to work with planes, though he can no longer pilot them, but the friendship that strengthened them both in their struggles with grief and loss makes it a parting full of promise.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Physician-scientist Lewis Thomas turns to pressing, threatening issues in this collection of 24 essays, many of which have been published in Discover magazine. The book opens and closes with meditations on nuclear warfare--the atom bombs of World War II and the escalation of worldwide tensions and technology that can combine to destroy the human race. In between, other essays, such as "On Medicine and the Bomb" and "Science and 'Science,'" also focus on these issues.

Less apocalyptic essays concern Thomas's experience with requiring a pacemaker, the state of psychiatry, lie detectors as evidence for essential human morality, and his abiding interest in language and scientific research.

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The Blizzard

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jan-26-2005
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is an inexperienced and overworked doctor in a remote region of Russia. Although accustomed to seeing as many as a hundred or more patients in a day, a blizzard brings him unexpected relief. Only two patients show up in the clinic. He welcomes the prospect of a leisurely day but soon receives a summons for help from a physician in a nearby district.

A bride-to-be has fallen out of a sleigh and is unconscious. The narrator travels more than 2 hours to lend his help, but she is already dying. He later realizes the young woman had a fracture at the base of the skull. Ignoring advice to stay the night, the doctor insists on returning home. Four hours after departing in a sleigh, the doctor and driver are lost and trapped in the snow. With great effort, the two men free the sleigh and horses from the drifts.

As their journey resumes, wolves chase the sleigh until the doctor fires his pistol. Finally, he sees the lights of his hospital in the distance. Once safe in his house, the doctor picks up a manual containing information about skull fractures but decides instead to go to sleep.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

In the Foreword to this collection, poet John Graham-Pole writes, "Children have uncovered for me the last and greatest lesson: souls thriving on failing at bigger and bigger things" (xvii). The heroes of these poems are just such children, transformed by serious illness. For example, Dominic in "Waiting" who "rests on his airbubble cot / awaiting life’s flight from its earthly beat" (10); Ruby in "Ruby Red": "And so poor Ruby meets her final test, in gentle hemolysis rolled to res" (35); the lovely young woman in "Elegy": "You’re newly dead, sans wig, / seventeen year old virgin whom / I’d loved." (57).

"I try through writing poems to lay a finger on the purpose of illness, on its pulse .  . Poems turn denial and withdrawal into compassion--feeling with. They turn fear into mercy--thank you" (xvii). The poet’s eye remains dispassionate, even though his heart may be breaking, as in "Last Rites" (32), in which a dead toddler’s father and his companion "sluice down the flooring with their hoses. After the vomit and blood the water runs clear." He understands the limits of communication about loss, but recognizes, too, that we must make the attempt; and the attempt has meaning in itself: "Afterward the circles of our talk / snap . . . - Within, we write our / separate texts of it. Between, the tension / stands: this no talk could break." ("Circles," p. 87)

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Summary:

This is a collection of 14 contemporary patients' accounts of dealing with their illness or injury. (The patients, four men and ten women, including the editors, are all writers.) Among them the stories cover numerous medical conditions: erythroblastosis, environmental illness, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, hip replacement, H.I.V., Crohn's disease, broken leg, ruptured cervical disc, myelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, lupus, alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, diabetic retinopathy, breast cancer, severe facial scarring, and depression. The collection is unified by a focus on selfhood--the recovery, discovery, or reconstruction of the psyche that the editors propose is the deepest form of healing.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Memoirs)

Summary:

This is a collection of 22 contemporary first-person accounts by survivors of a wide range of life’s woes--some medical, some social, and most of them at least partly emotional. The challenges the writers have faced are too numerous to represent individually in keywords, but they include incest, colonialism, disfigurement, adultery and divorce, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bone marrow transplant, and the death of family members.

All of the authors are writers, a handful of them well-known, and virtually all the works collected here have been published before. They are unified, to use the editor’s words, by the idea that "lifewriting is a passage through grief to knowledge" (she might have added "and to healing").

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Riding the Flume

Pfitsch, Patricia Curtis

Last Updated: Oct-22-2004
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Set in 1894 and based on a history of the logging projects among the California sequoias, this is a story of Francie, whose sister died in an accident six years earlier. She chafes under her parents' excessive protectiveness since Carrie's death. She loves the woods, and longs to do something to keep the loggers from cutting down the ancient sequoias, especially the oldest and largest, a tree over 2500 years old. Through a little sleuthing based on her sister's diary, she finds out that the property on which the ancient tree sits actually belongs to an old hermit, not to the logging company.

In an effort to get the company to stop before cutting the oldest tree, she rides the dangerous log flume into town to alert the one journalist she knows will support her cause. They arrive in time to save that tree and some of the others, and, perhaps as importantly to Francie, her mother and father begin to see her not only in terms of their loss of Carrie, but as a young woman independently interesting, daring, and very much alive.

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