Showing 251 - 260 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice
B.D. and Ryan are completing their tour of duty in Vietnam. They are bonded to each other--"some kind of cultish remnant"--because they are the only men from the original unit who have not returned home. Unexpectedly, a new lieutenant takes command. He views the unit as undisciplined; he lacks patience and a sense of humor.
Ryan's reaction is sarcastic mimicry, which the lieutenant overhears. When challenged, Ryan responds with a scurrilous comment. This initiates a menacing, deadly interaction between them. B.D. watches this interaction helplessly. He tries to persuade Ryan: "All you have to do . . . is keep quiet." (22) But Ryan can't help himself; his mission is to make the lieutenant aware of "what an asshole he is." (21)
B.D. feels increasingly desperate, fantasizing that he will blow the lieutenant up with a grenade. When he tries to enlist help from the former unit head the latter suggests that B.D. put himself in the line of fire in place of Ryan. B.D. realizes that officers stick together, and, even worse, he feels "weak, corrupt, and afraid." (30) Soon thereafter, Ryan is killed during a routine mission.
Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.
Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)
There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.
As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.
Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.
As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.
This is a story about storytelling. The narrator--a writer--and her aged, ill father are discussing the narrator's style of story writing. The father wants her to write a story that is simple, "Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next." The writer doesn't like telling stories that way because "it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life."
Because she wants to please her father, the writer narrates a one-paragraph tale about a woman and her teenage son, a drug addict. But this is not what the father had in mind at all. "You misunderstood me on purpose . . . You left everything out." The father asks the writer questions, attempting to fill in details of the story that he believes are important. The writer agrees to tell the story again.
The second version is longer, complicated, unlikely, and, like the first version, has an unhappy conclusion, ending, "The End." The father is discouraged and saddened by this version. How could his daughter, the writer, leave the mother in the story in such an abandoned state? As they discuss the ending the father becomes exasperated with his daughter's bantering: "Tragedy! . . . When will you look it in the face?"
The poet likens a sudden awareness of middle-age to "a pear [that] spoils from the inside out" of which one "may not be aware / until things have gone too far."
The narrator find himself in the kitchen where "the faucet drips" and "The magnets on the refrigerator crawl down / with the gravity of expired coupons and doctor bills." He looks into the refrigerator, trying to remember whether he has seen any of its contents before. He is preoccupied with his body, which is aging. His mind wanders. Suddenly, he is alert again, oriented to the present and ready to take charge--of his diet and of his life. "I'm full of hope. / I open the refrigerator. / I've seen this stuff before."
A woman medical student finds herself in a hierarchical dilemma while rotating through her internal medicine clerkship. She is helping to take care of a middle-aged man who has been hospitalized for a diagnostic work-up. As a consequence of invasive procedures ordered by his physicians to determine the cause of his symptoms, the patient has suffered serious complications and is moribund. The doctors are evasive with the patient and his family, who beseech the medical student for an explanation. Even though she has been instructed by the physicians to refer all issues back to them, she follows her own convictions and tells the truth: "Your father is dying."
As a result of this "insubordination," she is called in to see the head of the department, a man of "legendary diagnostic skill" with a long tenure at the hospital. He says that he will have her dismissed, and launches into a long diatribe, making the case for a paternalistic medicine in which the patient needs to believe that the physician is omniscient and possesses quasi-magical healing powers. "Miracle, mystery, and authority," he says, are at the heart of what physicians can do for their patients and to undermine these is to do harm to the vast majority of the sick. Having made his point, he terminates the interview but reinstates the student, who, it is suggested, is so grateful (for his advice or for not being dismissed?) that she kisses him.
The narrator, now a grown man, relates the story of his brother Del's troubled life and early death. The real story, however, concerns the narrator himself, as he reflects on his relationship with Del, his father's behavior toward both of them, and on the possibility that he (the narrator) played a role in Del's death.
When the narrator was fourteen, older brother Del--drunk at the time--was struck and killed by a train as he walked along the tracks. But the central event in the story is the narrator's betrayal of Del. Although Del had saved him from falling off a grain elevator roof, the narrator had falsely blamed Del for the near-fatal accident, out of fear of the father's fury, and because "After years of being on the receiving end, it wasn't in my nature to see Del as someone who could be wronged . . . ." [p. 57]
"My father had good reason to believe this lie . . . . " [p. 55] The incident occurred shortly after Del had been released from a juvenile detention facility--detained there for trying to strangle the narrator and threatening their father with a shotgun.
The narrator (later) finds in Del's notebook an essay revealing Del's intention to reform. But with the passage of time after the grain elevator episode, Del reverts to delinquent behavior; a year later he is dead. The narrator never reveals to his father the truth and the family never discusses Del's death.
At times, over the years, as the narrator searches for meaning and closure he believes he can "take all the loose ends of my life and fit them together perfectly . . . where all the details add up . . . ." [p. 68] In the end, however, we are left wondering whether this is possible--for the narrator--or for anyone.
This first novel is written in English by a native Indian who makes her home in India. It is the tale of Esthappen (Estha for short) and his fraternal twin sister, Rahel, and their divorced mother, Ammu, who live in the south Indian state of Kerala. Ammu, a Syrian Christian, has had no choice but to return to her parental home, following her divorce from the Hindu man she had married--the father of Estha and Rahel.
The story centers on events surrounding the visit and drowning death of the twins' half-English cousin, a nine year old girl named Sophie Mol. The visit overlaps with a love affair between Ammu and the family's carpenter, Velutha, a member of the Untouchable caste--"The God of Loss / The God of Small Things." (p. 274)
Told from the children's perspective, the novel moves backward from present-day India to the fateful drowning that took place twenty-three years earlier, in 1969. The consequences of these intertwined events--the drowning and the forbidden love affair--are dire. Estha at some point thereafter stops speaking; Ammu is banished from her home, dying miserably and alone at age 31; Rahel is expelled from school, drifts, marries an American, whom she later leaves. The narrative begins and ends as Rahel returns to her family home in India and to Estha, where there is some hope that their love for each other and memories recollected from a distance will heal their deep wounds.
This is the second of 13 short autobiographical pieces in the book, Naked. In it, Sedaris describes, in vivid and humorous detail, the obsessive compulsive behavior that plagued his life from grade school into college. From licking every light switch encountered, to counting each of "six hundred and thirty-seven steps" on the way home from school, "pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox" and having to retrace his steps if he lost count, Sedaris was compelled to " . . . do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them."
Each year, a teacher called on his mother to discuss the strange tics. His mother took his behavior and these visits in stride: "The kid's wound too tight, but he'll come out of it. So, what do you say, another scotch, Katherine?" "She suggested my teachers interpret my jerking head as a nod of agreement. 'That's what I do, and now I've got him washing the dishes for the next five years.'"
Life became more complicated when Sedaris entered college and had to contend with a roommate. There are amusing descriptions of the elaborate stratagems that he devised to conceal or explain the tics. Finally, "my nervous habits faded about the same time I took up with cigarettes . . . more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices."
Summary:The poem, written in German, appears in both German and English in this and other versions. Those who understand German may feel that something has been lost in translation, inevitable for rhyming poetry. Nevertheless the "endless outcry" of isolation and bitterness is well expressed. This blind man is totally unresigned to his condition; "every day I despair." He feels himself uniquely cursed. He mocks those who are sighted for believing that THEY might be special and he is contemptuous of any kindness shown him: no one can understand how he feels.