Showing 221 - 230 of 1212 Fiction annotations

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

New York is the setting for thirteen linked stories that profile a long line of curious and sometimes loony doctors who are passionate about medical science but often lack common sense and good judgment. Beginning with Dr. Olaf van Schuler in the seventeenth century and continuing over more than 300 years with generations of his descendants (the Steenwycks), missteps and madness loom large in this inquisitive and peculiar medical family.

Most of these doctors share common goals: They strive to eliminate pain. They attempt to expand the scope of medical knowledge. They seek the soul. In their quest for cures and enlightenment, many of these physician-scientists, their relatives, and patients embrace off-beat diagnostic techniques or unproven remedies: phrenology, magnetism, bloodletting, hypnosis, radium-emitting apparatus, electrical shocks, and lobotomy.

In "The Siblings," a doctor performs a lobotomy on his sister. She dies a few months after the operation. In "The Story of Her Breasts," a woman develops rheumatoid arthritis that may or may not be caused by her silicone breast implants. She also experiences guilt and worry after encouraging her 18-year-old daughter to undergo breast augmentation. In "The Baquet," hope is undeniable and a miracle cure is mesmerizing. In the book's final story, "The Doctors," two physicians - a father and his daughter - grapple with their strained relationship and the man's progressive deterioration that might be due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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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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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This collection of physician experiences, colored by the necessity of the writer to protect  his patients, gives a glimpse into a medical practice of a time past-remembered by some of us, not  known by our younger colleagues.  Dr. Palmer, aka Harry Byrd, takes the reader into a rural setting and  the practice of surgery bounded by the time and the place.  Dr. Byrd, trained in Boston as a surgeon,  chooses to practice in rural Maine and to work with the culture and needs of this environment.  He  treats the reader to a viewpoint of another era of medicine and, at some level, asks the readers to  consider the lost or fading qualities of the pre-tech doctor/patient relationship.

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A Better Angel

Adrian, Chris

Last Updated: Oct-03-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A drug-addicted doctor, a dying father, and a cantankerous angel constitute a less than holy trinity. Carl is an impaired physician who is hooked on drugs. He happens to have a guiding angel following him around, but she is no guardian. Instead, she is moody and provides no protection. She offers warnings and advice. Carl met his angel when he was six years old. After being stung by wasps and experiencing an allergic reaction, she didn't lift a finger (or wing) to help him.

The angel is prescient. She can foretell who will grow up naughty or beneficent. She knows when a person will die. She tells Carl that not everyone has an angel. Only those individuals destined for greatness get an angel, but some people choose not to heed the suggestions of their spiritual attendants.

Carl is a pediatrician. He cheated in medical school and on his certifying examination but is pleased with his choice of careers: "I make my living praising the beauty of well children. I love babies and I love ketamine" (p121). His father is dying from metastatic lung cancer. Their relationship is terrible. To make matters worse, Carl cannot stomach sick adults.

His three pregnant sisters implore Carl to care for their father after discharge from the hospital. Carl reluctantly leaves San Francisco and heads to Florida. He takes his father to chemotherapy sessions, but the oncologist thinks it's time to stop further treatment. Carl administers painkillers to his dad and frequently consumes some of the prescribed morphine and Percocet for his own pleasure. The two men hardly speak to each other.

Carl's angel repeatedly implores him to reach out to the dying man. She knows that emotional and physical connection will heal both men. Carl's father longs for a storm but the weather won't deliver his wish. One night, Carl stages rainfall with the aid of the garden hose. He rests his head against his dad's chest, and they fall asleep. When morning arrives, Carl awakens and discovers that his father died during the night. The angel is weeping in the room.

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The Cure for Grief

Hermann, Nellie

Last Updated: Sep-22-2008
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The voice of a young girl leads us through this spare and tautly told story of a closely-knit family upon whom tragedy falls like a plague.  Before death and mental illness take up residence there, we meet the Bronstein’s, two parents and four children, in their comfortable, well-run home outside of Boston.  Hermann delicately renders the portents of change and pain that haunt all loving families. The novel opens with the nine year-old Ruby Bronstein’s discovering, while walking along the beach with her three older brothers on a winter afternoon, an old rusty pistol poking out of the sand. 

The family story deepens as the teenage Ruby recounts a sojourn with her parents to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp where her father was interned as a child. Hermann’s restraint and precision in this sequence make this potentially familiar journey entirely new.  With her young eye trained on her father’s every muscle-twinge of reaction to what he sees, she crisply conveys the unknowability of even an adored father –let alone the events that took place within these walls. Her father’s inaccessible childhood memories are not miraculously jarred by this return to the scene of trauma – but he learns shortly thereafter of a brain tumor that soon will end his life.

One tragedy follows another, the emergence of mental illness in one brother, the death of another.  The narrative traces Ruby’s efforts to carry on in the face of these devastating losses.  Here is where the novel explodes in cold fire, in its quiet accounting of a young person’s grief as it is lived in its ordinary, daily course.  Loss begins to deform her social life, giving her the feeling that she is a freak.  The scale of things is too disproportionate; she dresses for the prom while her brother lies dying in the intensive care unit.  Carrying the stigma of disaster, she hides news of family developments for which she has no vocabulary.  What good would talking do anyhow, she asks –until she finds the listener she needs.  

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Safe

Wigfall, Clare

Last Updated: Jul-30-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Babies in Great Britain are vanishing - from homes, the park, and even a moving car. There is no explanation for the disappearances. The count of missing babies reaches 83 and still not a single body has been found.

Lella follows the news closely and is quite worried about her own baby. The mother clings to her daughter. One day, Lella spots mouse droppings in the kitchen. She telephones an exterminator but they are too busy to come to the house for at least one month. She next sees a large rat in the living room. Then Lella finds a nest of rodents and flushes it down the toilet.

The distraught mother becomes a recluse. She cannot sleep and has no energy. The doctor evaluates her. He prescribes some blue pills. He notes that "her hormones are still unsettled and her body weak" (107). She only pretends to swallow the medicine. Lella's husband takes a leave from work to care for her.

A tired Lella puts her baby in a cradle and later notices a rat next to it. She picks up a butter knife on the bedside table and is poised to stab the rat. Her husband enters the room, grasps Lella's wrist, and tells his wife it is only her imagination. He is correct. There is neither a rat nor a baby in the cradle, only a folded blanket.

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The Clinic

MacLaverty, Bernard

Last Updated: Jul-27-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

An overweight, older man is referred by his family doctor to a hospital-based Diabetic Clinic. The patient may have "borderline" diabetes and requires a glucose tolerance test to confirm the diagnosis. He remembers to bring two important items to his appointment - an early morning sample of his urine and something to read. He chooses a volume of short stories by Anton Chekhov.

At the clinic, three things vie for the man's attention: the environment of the waiting room, the requirement of providing a sample of blood and urine every thirty minutes, and one of Chekhov's stories titled "The Beauties." As the patient reads the short story, the clinic surroundings fade away. The existing reality is temporarily doused.

After the testing is completed, he meets with the doctor. Their encounter is brief. The diagnosis is not diabetes but rather impaired glucose tolerance (a condition that might progress to diabetes). The doctor recommends a healthier diet and extra exercise. The man telephones his worried wife with the news that he is alright. Like Chekhov, the patient also understands and savors the drama that is present in ordinary life.

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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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The Last Town on Earth

Mullen, Thomas

Last Updated: Jul-14-2008
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This tale narrates one town's attempt to isolate itself from the rapidly spreading influenza of 1918. Commonwealth is a fictional lumber mill town in western Washington state. The owner of the mill that is the economic center of this small village proposes, and sells to the residents, the plan for keeping the rest of the infected world from bringing disease into their midst. The single road into the relatively remote area is blocked and guarded by a rotating cadre of armed volunteers. The plan begins to fail as a stranger, a soldier claiming to be from a nearby military encampment, appears begging for food and shelter. He attempts to cross the barrier and is shot by one of the civilian guards.

The reader is introduced to the key players and the role of each in the town and in the evolving drama. The local medical practitioner struggles to advise the people, encouraging them to go along with the hardships created by not having access to supplies or the pleasures of visiting neighboring villages. Underlying the isolation is a history of political battles with the union and with competing timber companies, which bubbles to the surface as Commonwealth begins to lose its internal solidarity.

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Diary of a Bad Year

Coetzee, J. M.

Last Updated: Jun-16-2008
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

 

A well-respected, but aging and infirm author living in Australia has been invited to submit his thoughts on the world to a German publisher. Consisting first of his 'Strong Opinions' on contemporary sociopolitical controversies (such as terrorism, paedophilia, Al Qaeda) and then his 'softer' opinions (on such topics as birds, compassion, Dostoevsky and writing), these short essays lie across the top of the page. Beneath them run one, then two narratives, laid out like ribbons underneath. These consist of the story of the writer's relationship with Anya, and of Anya's relationship with her boyfriend in light of her interactions with the writer, including his plan to scam the author out of his money.

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