Showing 261 - 270 of 382 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

On with the Story

Barth, John

Last Updated: May-30-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A man and woman, probably late middle-aged and married, check into a tropical holiday resort for their last annual vacation. One of them is dying. The man begins telling stories to the woman, as he has promised to, in the unspoken hope of postponing the ending that will separate them. The book consists of the twelve stories he tells, interspersed with her responses to the stories. Each story is in some way about the same two things: about being half of a couple--about love, partnership, and the prospect of loss--and about narrative--about communication, the construction of meaning, and about the way all stories (and lives), sooner or later, must end.

Like their teller, though, these stories do their best not to reach closure. An example is the second story, "Ad Infinitum," in which a woman receives some bad news by telephone--we deduce it concerns her husband's cancer diagnosis--and goes out to where he is working in the garden in order to tell him the news. She has to cross the space of the garden before giving him the information that will change everything for the worse, beginning the end of his life and their marriage.

It occurs to her that the space she must cross can be infinitely extended if, as Zeno's paradox has it, she can keep halving the distance that remains before she reaches her husband (and thus the end of their story). This would infinitely suspend time in their story. And yet, as she walks, she also knows she WILL reach him . . . until the narrator intervenes by breaking into her thoughts and beginning another story, effectively enacting Zeno's theory of the arrow that keeps re-beginning its flight towards the target. Just as stories stave off death in the frame narrative, they seem able to keep this man happily and innocently gardening, in suspended story-time at least, forever.

In the last story, the narrator returns to all the others, pulling together their interconnected patterns and allowing each a kind of closure that, while it reiterates the storyteller's resistance to endings, his act of "beguiling" himself, his wife, and perhaps death itself, "with narrative possibilities still unforeclosed" (224), also reminds us that stories need to end in order to mean.

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Summary:

Penny (Michele Hicks), working as a prostitute, is called to a room in a seedy hotel where she finds her client is a pair of adult conjoined twins, Blake and Francis Falls (played by identical but not conjoined twins, Mark and Michael Polish, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Shocked, she flees but later returns and, when she learns that one of the twins is ill, calls a doctor friend of hers to examine them. She cares for the twins and they become friends. At Halloween, "the only night of the year they [can pass for] normal," she takes them to a party and then back to her apartment where she and Blake almost make love while Francis, evidently the weaker twin, is sleeping.

She tells her lawyer/pimp about the twins, and he tries to persuade them to sell him their story (which he imagines in terms of separation: "The greatest divorce of all time: not who gets the kid but who gets the kidney . . . "). Offended by her betrayal, they return to their hotel room, and, apparently for the first time, the twins fight. Blake wants to get away from his brother.

The next morning Francis is ill once more, and the twins are hospitalized. Michele visits them and learns that they are dying. Francis's heart is becoming weaker, straining Blake's, and the only way to save Blake will be by separating them. Francis cannot survive separation. Penny tracks down their mother (Lesley Ann Warren), who gave them up for adoption at birth. She visits them in hospital. It emerges that Penny herself has a "retarded" child who is being raised by others. Francis's heart fails, and the twins are taken to the operating room.

Later, Penny tracks Blake down where he is now living alone in the trailer where the twins had lived before, as circus performers. The film ends with Blake, now a man with one arm and one functioning leg, telling Penny that the "story of me is over," but also that stories continue after sad endings. What makes an ending sad, he tells her, is the knowledge that the storyteller is continuing without you.

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Chocolates

Simpson, Louis

Last Updated: Mar-20-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

One day some people were visiting Chekhov and they wanted to talk about him, about his genius. The author was embarrassed. He asked them, "Do you like chocolates?" Although the visitors were reticent at first, Anton P. Chekhov encouraged them to speak. Soon everyone was talking about his or her preference in chocolates, relishing the fine points of "almonds and Brazil nuts" and "the flavor of shredded coconut." Later, in the coach on the way home, the people felt that their conversation with Chekhov was very successful. [30 lines]

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Summary:

When literature and cultural studies professor Michael Bérubé's son James was born in 1991, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Negotiating various medical, social, and educational environments and the identities each assigns their son, Bérubé and Janet Lyon (his wife, a literature professor and former cardiac-ICU nurse), become effective advocates for Jamie and embark on a course of questions about the social systems that produce disabled identities and administer to those human differences termed significant ones. Bérubé engages these questions with a mixture of family experience (his own, and that of other families with disabilities), historical research, critical theory, and sophisticated critical analysis.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book's title is from a Goethe poem, "The Holy Longing," translated from German in its entirety by Robert Bly: "And so long as you haven't experienced / this: to die and so to grow, / you are only a troubled guest / on the dark earth." Ten intensely personal essays tell of the suffering and everyday presence of pain of a severely disabled writer who has advancing multiple sclerosis, and of how, "in a very real sense, and entirely without design, death has become [her] life's work." (p. 13)

Beginning with her father's sudden death when she was a child, the essays describe her aging mother's expected death and the family's decision to take her off life support; her caretaker husband's diagnosis of metastatic cancer with uncertain prognosis; her own attempted suicide; death of friends, pets, including her beloved dog; and a young pen-pal executed on death row. If that weren't enough, a coda, her foster son's murder and again the decision to remove life-support, provides "[t]he end. For now." (p. 191)

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

David Slavitt has written his own response [Part I, "Meditation" (pp. 1-58)] to the five poems (chapters) that comprise the Old Testament's "Book of Lamentations," which he has translated here from the Hebrew [Part II, "Lamentations" (pp. 59-85)]. The poems appear in Hebrew and in English, on opposite pages. In addition there is a "Note on Translation" (pp. xiii-xiv) and a "Bibliographical Note" (pp. 87-88).

Five poems--The Book of Lamentations--express Israel's brokenness, bewilderment before God, and sorrow at the catastrophes that have beset the Jewish people through the ages. Slavitt's meditation and notes on translation prepare the reader for far more than a prosaic historical account of the destruction and biblical plights of the Jews. "A translator wants to be faithful to the original work but then discovers how fidelity to the word can mean a betrayal of the sentence." (p. xiii)

"As a boy, I knew next to nothing of Tish'a b'Av," begins the author's meditation. We learn, as he did, about "[this] worst day of the year"(p. 6)--the day in 587 B.C. that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and six centuries later on the same day, when the second temple was destroyed. Annually Tish'a b'Av is devoted to grieving "every terrible thing that happened in this world "(p. 6): Zion, Jerusalem, the Holocaust. Except for The Book of Job (see annotation in this database) and Lamentations, reading even the Torah, the most sacred text in all Judaism, is forbidden on this solemn day.

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Summer in Baden-Baden

Tsypkin, Leonid

Last Updated: Jan-31-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel the narrator travels by train from the present into the past and back again. The narrator boards a train in Soviet Moscow; travels to Leningrad in a compartment with some not too friendly people; stays overnight in a relative's run-down, crowded apartment; and rambles through the streets of Leningrad, stopping to visit Dostoyevsky's last place of residence, which is now a museum.

However, this framing story occupies very little of the book. During the train ride, the narrator re-imagines a much earlier trip in April 1867, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife, Anna Grigoryevna, travel by train to Baden-Baden in Germany. They will remain abroad for four years, as Dostoyevsky indulges in his passion (and later obsession) for gambling.

In Baden-Baden he loses all their money; he pawns their belongings and loses; he begs and borrows money from friends and publishers, and loses. Each time he loses, he comes home to their rented apartment and throws himself at Anna's feet. He protests his love, berates himself, and promises to do better in the future; and Anna forgives him.

In this dream-like story, repentance and forgiveness, memory and desire, hope and despair revolve like electrons around Dostoevsky's addiction to gambling. Fyodor and Anna recall earlier events in their lives; for example, Anna remembers herself as a hesitant young secretary arriving for the first time to take dictation from the famous man; and Fyodor, the former convict, Slavophile author of Crime and Punishment, remembers being scornfully dismissed by the smooth and sophisticated Turgenev.

Within the 1867 framework, the story seems to be stuck, unable to move forward, although we know from our late 20th century perspective--as Tsypkin recalls (and invents) the events while on his train trip to Leningrad--they are part of a larger story which moves inexorably forward through time and ends at the Dostoevsky house in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), with the moving scene of Fyodor's last days. And the two stories converge as Tsypkin visits the Dostoevsky museum where those last days took place.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Watercolor on wood

Summary:

Dominating the image, a vengeful Satan with arms outstretched stands upon Job's prone body dispensing boils from a vial with his left hand while shooting arrows at him with his right. Job's head is thrown back and his hands are lifted off the ground in a sign of agony. His weeping wife kneels at his feet. The background is minimal yet dramatic with its dark swirling clouds, bright setting sun, and Satan's huge blood red wings.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In this short volume, Janet Malcolm frames a series of reflections on Chekhov's life and work with her pilgrimage to Chekhov-related sites in Russia and the Ukraine. The book begins with Malcolm's visit to Oreanda, a village on the Crimean coast near Yalta, which is the site where the fictional lovers in Chekhov's story The Lady with the Dog (1899, see annotation) sit quietly and look out at the sea on the morning after their first sexual encounter. While these lovers are fictional, their creator actually spent the last several years of his life as a respiratory cripple living amid the seascapes around Yalta.

The visit to Oreanda occurred near the end of Janet Malcolm's literary journey, but it provides a fulcrum or center of gravity for the book. From there, she constructs a narrative with three interweaving plots. One consists of her reminiscences of the last 10 days or so in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and her visit to Chekhov's estate (now a state museum) in the village of Melikhovo, south of Moscow. A second presents biographical material about Chekhov. Malcolm triangulates and interweaves these two with critical observations about the writer's stories and plays.

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The Case of Dr. Sachs

Winckler, Martin

Last Updated: Nov-27-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At the heart of this novel is a simple love story. Dr. Bruno Sachs, a slight, stooped, and somewhat unkempt general practitioner in a French village is dedicated to his work and loved by his patients. Sachs is a solitary, self-effacing man who takes his Hippocratic duties seriously and is especially sensitive to the needs of his patients.

In addition to his private practice, Sachs works part-time at an abortion clinic, where he performs an abortion on a distraught young woman named Pauline Kasser. Soon the doctor and his patient fall in love. She moves in with him and becomes pregnant. An editor by profession, Pauline also encourages and assists Dr. Sachs in completing the book he is writing.

The story has many additional layers and dimensions. The reader views Sachs through the eyes of multiple narrators--his patients, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, all of whom write in the first person and present Bruno Sachs as "you" or "he." Thus, the reader gradually builds up a "connection" (empathy) with Sachs by synthesizing multiple glimpses of his behavior and facets of his character. At the same time, Sachs is trying to find his own voice, his own connection, by becoming a writer. At first he jots down random thoughts, then he keeps a notebook, and eventually he produces a complete manuscript.

The book has innovative structural elements that introduce other layers of meaning. For example, the 112 short chapters are organized into seven sections, corresponding with the components of a complete clinical case history: presentation (as in "chief complaint"), history, clinical examination, further investigations, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Similarly, the narratives delve progressively into Sachs' "illness" and follow the "patient" through his course of "treatment."

Another structural element is the cycle of fertility and gestation. The story takes place from September through June, precisely 40 weeks, a pregnancy of nine months, during which Sachs is re-born.

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