Showing 31 - 40 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

By Blood

Ullman, Ellen

Last Updated: Feb-19-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first-person, nameless narrator is in mid-1970s San Francisco on a "sabbatical" that is more like an exile from his academic post in the east. He takes an office in a downtown building to force himself to leave his dull accommodations. Occasionally he can hear everything that transpires from the space on the other side of the wall, which is the office of psychiatrist, Dr. Schüssler. Normally, the woman doctor runs a white-noise machine to ensure privacy, but one patient — who becomes “my patient” — hates the noise and insists it be turned off.

Adopted in infancy, “my patient” is in a fraught lesbian relationship. Her doctor has been encouraging her to find her birth mother, but she keeps resisting. Finally she embarks on a long exploration that is told through her accounts to the doctor, through conversations repeated and letters read out loud. As an academic scholar, the eavesdropping narrator is able to trace records that could not be found by the patient; he takes the liberty of meddling, falsifying an agency letter and setting her on the correct path. He also realizes that the psychiatrist’s father was a Nazi officer by listening to telephone conversations with her own mentor.

“My patient” learns that her mother was Jewish and escaped death by being in a special facility as a comfort woman. Chameleon-like the mother’s identity changes over and over. In contrast to the nameless patient, her name moves from Maria to Miriam to Michal; she lives in Israel where the patient goes to find her. The biological father’s identity is a mystery—perhaps someone whom Michal loved, perhaps a Nazi officer. The sacrifice of her child to a Catholic adoption agency moves from inexplicable selfishness to desperate selflessness. Surprises continue to the end when "my patient" finds an Israeli sister who has been in contact with the mother but is no less confused over her identity.

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A Child on Her Mind

Nisker, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Feb-14-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Nurse Moira is caring for three different women in labour: two have female birth partners; one is alone. 

Teenage Stacey with her school friend Jeannine adopts a punk, devil-may-care attitude to the whole process, but shrieks in agony with her pains; she plans to keep the baby in defiance of all her family members and advisors. Unknown to Stacey, Jeannine once had a baby and gave it away for adoption; it is a secret that Jeannine wants to believe was for the best.

The solitary Jane had once adopted a baby like Jeannine’s only to lose it again within the requisite month-long waiting period. Heartbroken Jane and her husband paid for a woman to have IVF so that Jane could become pregnant. She is thrilled that she will finally become a mother, but her earlier experiences make her sympathize with mothers who cannot conceive or who have lost babies through adoption or death.

Eva an immigrant from Kosovo had been brought to Canada as a housekeeper by the driven businesswoman Carol, who is "coaching" her. Because Carol is no longer fertile, she deliberately goaded Eva into becoming a surrogate mother, inseminated artificially through her husband’s sperm. Should Eva refuse or break the contract, she will be returned to Kosovo. For fear of the slightest damage to the child that she intends to claim, Carol will not let Eva speak or have any analgesia. Eva is miserable; the audience hears her thoughts, but Carol and the nurse cannot.

Moira copes with the three radically different scenarios, succeeding in giving egalitarian care. Moira and Jane inform Eva of her rights, and she takes her baby and returns to Kosovo. 

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Augustine

Winocour, Alice; Soko; Lindon, Vincent

Last Updated: Feb-07-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Augustine, a fifteen-year old maid in a wealthy home, collapses with a seizure while she is serving an elegant dinner. When she recovers, she is unable to open one eye. She is transported to Salpetriere hospital in Paris under the care of the famous J. M. Charcot, neurologist and psychiatrist who is fascinated by the condition of hysteria. He uses hypnosis to suggest cures to his patients and to trigger attacks which he demonstrates to his colleagues. Augustine is particularly susceptible to fits under hypnosis and obliges her doctor with lewd, convulsive performances virtually on command.

After one such episode the paralysis moves from her eye to her hand. She says that she wishes to be cured, but life in the asylum is not terrible: she has a warm room and food; she no longer needs to work in a kitchen or serve demanding masters.  The doctor is clearly taken with her as a scientific subject. “Augustine est une patient magnifique,” he assures a colleague. He is personally intrigued by her too.

Finally, one day she announces that she is cured. When Charcot tries to hypnotize her for another demonstration, she does not succumb; however, a look passes between them. Taking pity on her doctor, she stages a seizure that satisfies the audience. Immediately after, she and the doctor have a single passionate encounter against a clinic wall, and then she runs away.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Young, beautiful Caroline Mathilde (Vikander) writes a letter to her children explaining why they have been separated. A few years earlier in 1766, she was sent from her native England to Denmark to become consort to King Christian VII (Følsgaard).

Her hopes are dashed when she discovers that her regal husband is deeply disturbed and little interested in her. They manage to conceive a baby boy – and all further relations between them discontinue.

Dr. Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen) is a progressive, German physician, interested in helping the poor. His friends wish to curry favour with the monarch and sway politics. They believe that Struensee might be good for the King and good for them. He is recruited to the royal entourage.

The plan works well. Struensee is able to calm the king, who grows fond of and dependent on his physician. Under his influence, the king asserts his own authority and begins making progressive laws – banning torture, improving sanitation, outlawing biased financial practices for artistocrats. These changes displease some of the very people who had brought Struensee to court.

Worse, the doctor understands Caroline Mathilde and her loneliness. He is instrumental in a partial reconciliation between the queen and the king, but inevitably he and she fall in love. Their affair is an open secret at court. When she bears a daughter, the King recognizes the child, but everyone knows that the infant is not his.

Eventually the affair is used to bring down both Struensee and the Queen. She is sent into exile without her children. He is lied to, and brutally decapitated in 1772. Three years later, she writes to her children and dies of fever.

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The Cure

Barrett, Andrea

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.

Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).

Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.

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Secrecy

Thomson, Rupert

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1701, the wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo is invited to the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. His talent in is portraying the human form in various states of decay – anatomically correct, each figure set in a box recreating scenarios, as chilling memento mori.

Zumbo is well received in Florence and befriends anatomists and physicians at the local hospital Santa Maria Nuova. But he cannot fathom why he has been invited until he meets the Grand Duke himself. Cosimo confesses the misery of his marriage to the much younger Frenchwoman, Marguerite Louise. She has left him, yet he loves her still. He asks Zumbo to fashion a wax woman for him—but the artist must be careful because Florence—under Cosimo’s own pious orders – is becoming increasingly intolerant of sexual deviation of any sort. Spies are everywhere.

Zumbo is given the corpse of a young woman, mysteriously drowned, and makes a cast of her body. Then he finds a way to make the dubious project “acceptable” by concealing a fetus inside her removable but flat belly.

Meanwhile, Zumbo spies a beautiful woman in an apothecary shop – and spends a long time searching for her. Her name is Faustina, and eventually they begin an affair, which is deemed unacceptable. They must flee from a murderous Dominican priest who plans to torture and kill them both.

Without giving too much away, the ending is poignant.

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Counting the Days

Donoghue, Emma

Last Updated: Sep-30-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1849, Jane Johnson is on a ship headed for Quebec City with her two children. She has had a relatively uneventful crossing – only one old man died and a child was stillborn. She cannot wait to be reunited with her husband Henry. Having left a year earlier, he is waiting for her eagerly. They both now think that they should not have separated. They each clutch the handful of barely literate letters. She has sternly told him that he must be at the ship to greet them. Fully intending to be there, he suddenly falls ill with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea and is dragged to a hospital. It is cholera and he realizes that he will die without seeing his little family again. As the boat docks, she thinks she sees him in the crowd.

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Syndrome E

Thilliez, Franck

Last Updated: Aug-26-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A movie buff in northern France goes blind after watching a short anonymous horror film. He calls on Lucie his ex-girlfriend and a cop in Lille, to take the film to an expert film analyst. The expert demonstrates that the film, made in Canada in 1955, contains subliminal images and a whole other hidden movie of little girls torturing rabbits. He is soon found brutally murdered and the film stolen.

Four bodies missing part of their skulls, their eyes, and hands are found buried by a crew laying a pipeline and the profiler Sharko is brought in to explore the crime. They make a connection to a triple murder of girls in Egypt in 1994—the three girls who did not know each other were found in different places with their brains and eyes missing.

Sharko and Lucie begin to unravel the mystery by tracking the people in the film and those who made it. Sharko goes to Egypt; she goes to Canada –both nearly lose their lives as a result. Their research brings them closer to linking the seemingly disparate murders to occult military operations, involving the French Foreign Legion and the CIA.

They solve the crime, but the ending is disturbing.

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Fever

Keane, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-22-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1907, Mary Mallon, an Irish-born cook, is identified as the source of typhoid fever outbreaks in several of the households where she has been employed. Deemed a healthy carrier, she nevertheless cannot comprehend her role in the tragedies and rejects her responsibility. How could she harbor the germ that causes the disease and not be ill herself?

Led by Dr. George Soper, the authorities ensure that she is incarcerated on North Brother Island in the Hudson River – until a lawyer takes an interest in her case. An important part of her defence comes from the growing knowledge that many other people are also healthy carriers of the germ and they have not been incarcerated. Finally in 1910, she regains her freedom on condition that she never cook for others again.

But Mary loves cooking, and it is a far more lucrative occupation than her work as a laundress. In addition, she needs to support her common-law partner, Alfred, who has a serious drinking problem and is chronically unable to find work. Alfred had left her for another woman during her incarceration and succeeds in giving up alcohol. But he still loves Mary and abandons the other woman; he vanishes out west and is injured in a horrible fire that leaves him deformed and in chronic pain. Mary finds him and tries to help him, but Alfred now slowly slips into drug addiction.

The temptation to start cooking again is too great. The inevitable happens and Mary is caught. This time, however, she does not protest and ends her days as a captive of New York City.

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The Rosie Project

Simsion, Graeme

Last Updated: Aug-22-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A big believer in evidence-based science, Australian Professor Don Tillman is 39 years old, “tall fit and intelligent with a relatively high status and an above average income.” He should be attractive to women and succeed in reproducing. Yet he is alone. Dating is a disappointing waste of time.

After he is asked to give a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome, Don decides to solve his problem scientifically. He develops his Wife Project – a massive questionnaire designed to weed out incompatibles and identify women most likely to be a match. Intelligence, punctuality, shared tastes, and no use of tobacco or alcohol are high on the list of desirables. His only friends, geneticist Gene and psychologist Claudia, humor and support him. Gene and Claudia have an open marriage, which means that Gene’s “research” involves his bedding many women of different nationalities.

Into his life comes Rosie—a wild, disorganized bartender who smokes. She is totally incompatible. Curious about her biological father, Rosie inspires Don to develop the "father project" as a way of identifying all possible candidates and then eliminating them one by one using DNA. Circumstances force them to work together at various other schemes—running a one-off bar for which Don, the non-drinker, becomes a walking encyclopedia of cocktail recipes. A trip to New York City results in more hilarity, further destabilizing Don’s equanimity. His stereotypical assumptions are challenged when he discovers that she is completing a PhD on the side. They have fun. But Rosie cannot be the right one because she would fail the questionnaire.

Eventually and predictably Don realizes that it is Rosie whom he wants and needs. He develops the Rosie project to win her back. He also shows Gene that the wonderful Claudia is about to leave him and that open marriage is for the birds—or is it the bees? Happy endings all round.

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