Showing 291 - 300 of 456 annotations in the genre "Short Story"
An American man and "a girl" sit drinking beer in a bar by a train station in northern Spain making self-consciously ironic, brittle small talk. The woman comments that the hills look like white elephants (hence the story's title). Eventually, the two discuss an operation, which the man earnestly reassures her is "awfully simple . . . not really an operation at all . . . all perfectly natural" (726).
The woman is unconvinced, questioning "what will we do afterward," but says she will have the operation because "I don't care about me" (727). A few moments later, however, she avers that they "could" have everything and go anywhere, suddenly as earnest as he had been earlier. When the man agrees that they "can" do these things, however, the woman now says no, they can't, her change in verb tense suggesting that the possible lives they once could have pursued (and produced) are even now, before any firm decision has been spoken, irrevocably out of reach. When the man says that he will go along with whatever she wants, the woman asks him to "please please please please please please please stop talking" or she will scream. The train arrives during this impasse, and once the bags are loaded, the woman, smiling brightly, insists she feels fine.
This story is claimed by its narrator to be a chapter in his biography of the Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol. He begins by saying he knows some intimate details of Gogol's life and that as his biographer he feels obligated to reveal them, though as his friend he might have kept all this to himself.
After setting the reader up for some perhaps prurient "facts," the narrator tells us that Gogol's wife was a life-sized balloon, anatomically correct and quite voluptuous. Claiming to be the only person besides Gogol who has ever seen this creation, the narrator goes on to tell us an occasion where he heard her speak. He describes how she developed her own personality, in spite of the fact that she was a balloon, and that she even contracted syphilis, which subsequently infected Gogol.
The narrator and Gogol are celebrating the silver anniversary of Gogol and his wife when the novelist gets insanely irritated with her, inserts a bicycle pump into her, and inflates her until she explodes. Gogol then throws the rubber pieces into the fire (much as he had burned his manuscripts earlier). He also throws into the fire a balloon baby boy. The story closes with the narrator again defending his position of biographer, providing the truth about Gogol to the reader.
Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov wakes up one morning and discovers that his nose is missing. At the same time in another part of St. Petersburg, Kovalyov's barber finds the nose in his breakfast roll. However, the barber, desiring to disassociate himself from the strange incident, proceeds to toss the nose into the Neva River. A little later, Kovalyov happens to see his nose riding in an elegant carriage and wearing the uniform of a State Councillor (a higher rank than Collegiate Assessor). He demands that the nose give itself up, but is rudely rebuffed.
At first neither the police nor the newspaper offer any help, but later a police officer, who happened to observe the barber throwing an object into the river, returns the lost nose to Kovalyov. However, a new problem arises. How will he re-attach the nose to his face? For this he consults a doctor, who recommends letting nature take its course, "it's best to stay as you are, otherwise you'll only make it worse." Poor nose-less Kovalyov! He becomes the laughing stock of St. Petersburg, until one morning he wakes up and finds his nose re-attached firmly to his face.
The story takes place in the winter at Einfried, a sanatorium directed by Dr. Leander, a physician "whom science has cooled and hardened and filled with silent, forbearing pessimism." A young married woman (Frau Kloterjahn) arrives as a patient. Her husband denies the seriousness of her illness by calling it merely "a problem of the trachea." In reality, Frau Kloterjahn, who had recently given birth to a healthy son, is dying of consumption.
A not-so-sick novelist (Detlev Spinell) also lives in the sanatorium, and he quickly develops a romantic obsession with the new patient. One day most of the residents go for a sleigh ride, but Spinell and Frau Kloterjahn remain indoors. He cajoles her to play the piano for him, which has been forbidden. Picking up a score from "Tristan und Isolde," Frau Kloterjahn plays beautifully until exhausted. When her death becomes imminent, Herr Kloterjahn returns to her bedside. At this point Spinell writes Kloterjahn an excoriating letter, saying (in essence) that the man is an insensitive slob who doesn't understand his own wife.
The narrator stands working at her ironing board, responding mentally to a request someone (a teacher? a social worker?) makes of her regarding her daughter Emily, "I wish you could manage the time to come in and talk with me . . . She's a youngster who needs help." The woman's thoughts go back to Emily's birth during the Depression when she was only 19, and her thoughts range forward, haltingly, in piecemeal fashion, through her daughter's difficult childhood.
Due to the wages of loss, poverty and dislocation, a wall has grown up between mother and daughter--she has always wanted to love the sickly, awkward, stiff, and isolated girl, but has not been able to penetrate the wall. And then, she recalls, out of nowhere Emily won first prize in her school amateur show. The girl is a natural performer, a wonderful comedienne, who now is in demand throughout the city and state.
Suddenly, Emily appears on the scene. "Aren't you ever going to finish the ironing, mother?" She says that she wants to sleep in the morning, even though this will make her late for mid-term exams. Near the end of the story the narrator imagines telling her interlocutor, "Why were you so concerned? She will find her way." But then she implores, "Only help her to know--help make it so there is cause for her to know--that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron."
Many years later, a plastic surgeon is still haunted by memories of the war atrocities he committed as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. He returns to Vietnam searching for atonement. He spends two weeks there as a medical volunteer, repairing the cleft lips and palates of 30 children. He meets the director of the hospital, Dr. Lieh Viet Dinh, who once was a member of the North Vietnamese Army.
During the war, Dr. Dinh was tortured and both his thumbs were cut off. He asks the plastic surgeon to perform a toe transplant to replace one of his missing thumbs. Despite the initial optimism of both men, the operation ultimately fails as the digit becomes gangrenous and then dead. Once again, Vietnam has proven to be a dangerous place seeping hardship and disappointment. Only now the surgeon is capable of accepting the land and its risks as he makes peace with the country and himself.
As the narrator, an "outcast among outcasts," begins to recount his story, he cautions the reader that "William Wilson" is not his real name; he doesn't want the page to "be sullied with my real appellation." The miserable man tells of his childhood and his life at school, where he encountered another boy who looked exactly like himself and had the same name and birthday.
All the children at school recognized the narrator's preeminence among them, except for this strange double. While the first William Wilson was aggressive, witty, and imperious, the double presented himself as quiet, gentle and wise--but unthreatened. In the end their feelings towards each other "partook very much of positive hatred."
Many years later, as the narrator was busily engaged in cheating at a game of cards, the second William Wilson suddenly appeared out of nowhere and revealed Wilson's scam to everyone present. Subsequently, time after time, just as Wilson was about to achieve some nefarious end, this anti-Wilson unerringly stepped in and destroyed Wilson's chances.
The last straw occurred in Rome during Carnival; just as Wilson was about to seduce a married woman, his double arrived to squelch the affair. Wilson flew into a rage and killed his nemesis, only to discover he had stabbed a mirror--but the dying image in the mirror whispered, " . . . How utterly thou hast murdered thyself."
Mrs. Wilson is a woman diagnosed with an advanced malignancy of the genital tract. Her husband had died from cancer ten years earlier. She is treated with a hysterectomy and oophorectomy along with aggressive chemotherapy by a good doctor who has no bedside manner.
Throughout the story her best friends are always medications to relieve pain: Dilaudid, morphine, Tylenol #3, and methadone. Only her son-in-law really understands her needs and comprehends how to care for her. He is genuine and vital and appears to know as much or more than the doctors in the story.
Mrs. Wilson acknowledges that "to maybe get well you first had to poison yourself within a whisker of death" but discovers that "if you had something to live for, if you loved life, you lived." She dies in a hospital room receiving an IV morphine drip. Before fading into oblivion, she recalls her youth and makes one last attempt at fathoming the meaning of life.
Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.
Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.
An elderly woman prepares for an announced visit from "officials" to honor the 90th birthday of her demented and bedridden husband, Bernat, once a major force in the scientific community of Communist controlled Hungary. As she flutters about the apartment, preparing to serve cakes and drinks to the anticipated visitors, the reader becomes acquainted with the unnamed protagonist's own concentration difficulty. She repeatedly lapses into remote recall, speaking fondly of an apparent former lover and occasionally sighing for Mommie or Daddy.
During the brief period of waiting, she unfolds bits and pieces of the life of the intellectually privileged and those not so lucky during the Communist regime, and her own regrets for dreams not realized. The reader does not meet the guests, but learns of the visit only through the eyes of Bernat's wife. The visits serves only to enhance her fears that the apartment may be taken, the little pension upon which the couple lives may be rescinded.
As the little vignette draws to a close, the wife enters the room of Bernat, who is obviously profoundly demented, but for whom she cares as one would care for a baby. The sadness of her lonely life dissolves into tears of resigned hopelessness.