Showing 231 - 240 of 1224 Fiction annotations

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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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

After his divorce and a year of traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders, Orville Rose returns to his home town of Columbia, New York upon learning of his mother's death. He discovers upon his return that in order to receive the benefits of his mother's will he must stay in this "Hudson River town plagued by breakage" for one year and 13 days. What transpires over that time is the heart of this novel which includes Orville's love story with a single mom (who has her own physical breakage), a renewed relationship with his mentor, Dr. Bill Starbuck (the inventor of the cure-all Starbusol who leaves Orville to travel the world with his wife Babette, before returning to town to receive Orville's care as he dies), and the often hilarious account of Orville trying to care for the citizens of Columbia. Thrown into this mix of new and old relationships is the floating presence of his dead mother as well as the in-his-face presence of Orville's boyhood arch-nemesis who now is riding high in Reagan's "Morning in America" as Columbia's candidate for congress.

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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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