Showing 301 - 310 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

The Unfortunates

Baer, William

Last Updated: Feb-07-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a collection of portraits in verse of 40 "unfortunate" characters. In most cases using a 16 line sonnet-like form, William Baer creates stark, unsettling miniature narratives of men and women who live at the edge, where "normal" people (like you, dear reader?), when hearing their stories, will turn to their companions and exclaim, "Oh, how unfortunate!"

Take, for example, the "Prosecutor" who has lost faith in justice, or the dying woman in a "Hospital" who remembers the day her young lover walked away, or the flashy chic who get her kicks by making-it in a ditch beside an airport "Runway," or the wounded Newark thug in "Trauma Center" who elopes from the hospital as soon as he can stand.

Baer tells his unfortunates' stories in spare, transparent language, claiming no insight, no closure, no chance of redemption. Yet these poems dignify their sad subjects by insisting that we take them seriously, by crying out, "Attention must be paid!"

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife (Rene Russo) are both working for a federal infectious disease laboratory, but their marriage is on the rocks. A mysterious lethal illness, remarkably like Ebola fever, breaks out at various sites in America, all eventually connected to a pet shop that received a monkey from an illegal smuggling operation. Most cases are immediately isolated and contained, but a town in California develops an epidemic of the new disease.

The lab is called in and the military enforces a strict quarantine that divides families and prevents anyone from leaving the area. One worker dies quickly and Sam's wife falls ill. The crass General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) is convinced that the nation can be saved only by the annihilation of the town by a gigantic bomb.

A plane sets out on the gruesome mission. Meanwhile, Hoffman leaps from a helicopter onto the cargo ship where the sailor-smuggler has just died leaving a photo of the monkey carrier. Sam makes a televised appeal for help locating the cute but dangerous, little monkey; a terrified mother responds and the creature is snatched from the arms of her child.

With military snipers in hot pursuit, Sam returns to the town, radioing the baffled bomber pilots with a barrage of reasons why they should ditch their mission of destruction. He puts the tiny monkey to work producing anti-sera and vaccines, which--in only a matter of minutes!--rescue the town, his wife, and his marriage. The pilots disobey orders and dump their bomb in the sea.

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Summary:

American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.

From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.

Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.

Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.

The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in a planned series of seven (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Unlike previous books, this one opens with the murder of a Muggle, Frank Bryce, the elderly gardener for the Riddle estate--a home where Tom Riddle Sr. and his elderly parents had been found dead many years before. Voldemort, although still weak and requiring much assistance from his simpering servant Wormtail and his snake Nagini, is positioning himself for a return to full power.

Harry's distinctive scar is burning with pain as he awakes from a dream of the previous scene. This scar had hurt once before, in book one, when Voldemort was on Hogwarts property. Harry alerts his godfather via owl post and joins the Dursleys for breakfast. Breakfast is meager because Dudley, always obese and obnoxious, has now grown to outrageous proportions and is on the diet ordered by his school nurse. His mother, to make him feel better, puts everyone on the same diet. Harry is once again saved from the Dursleys by the Weasley family, although Dudley and his appetite are the objects of a prank by the Weasley twins.

Arthur Weasley (the father) who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office has secured top notch tickets for all to attend the World Quidditch Cup. This fantastic event is marred by the appearance of signs of support for Voldemort by his followers, the Death Eaters, and Arthur hurries home with his charges in tow via Portkey transit.

Harry, now fourteen, enters Hogwarts for his fourth year. This year is different for all of the students due to the resurrection of the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous international competition for a selected champion from each of three schools, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Hogwarts. Although underage, Harry is selected by the Goblet as an extra competitor from Hogwarts. Everyone is concerned for the competitors' safety (the famous Viktor Krum, the enticing Fleur Delacour, and the decent Cedric Diggory). In particular, Harry's life is in danger from suspected foul play.

Adolescent love, the nastiness of poison-pen reporter Rita Skeeter, the ever-vigilant nature of Mad-Eye Moody (an Auror who caught Death Eaters in the past and who now teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), spells that cause loss of control, excruciating pain or death, enslavement of house-elves, money, and variable degrees of professionalism by members of the Ministry of Magic, such as Cornelius Fudge, Bartemius Crouch, officious Percy Weasley, and Ludo Bagman are some of the themes and subplots in the novel. The traumatic end to the competition and follow-up lead Harry to witness and participate in some horrific events. Dumbledore, however, refuses to allow Harry to bottle-up the experience--Dumbledore understands that talk, openness, support, and rest are the first steps towards healing.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first in a planned series of seven books. Harry's wizard and witch parents, James and Lily, have just been killed by Voldemort, an evil wizard who was thwarted and severely weakened when he tried to kill one-year-old Harry. The murder attempt leaves Harry with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry is whisked off to live with his Muggle (non-magical) suburban middle-class aunt and uncle (Petunia and Vernon Dursley) and their bullying overweight son, Dudley.

Fast-forward nearly ten years and chapter two begins when Harry is almost eleven and suffering a Dickensian childhood, forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive, the home of the Dursleys. Harry has not been told of his heritage, and is unaware of his own fame in the wizard world. He is punished when any hint of the out-of-ordinary appears, such as when he communicates with a snake at the zoo.

The narrative then follows our bespectacled young protagonist as Hagrid, the huge groundskeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, informs Harry that he is invited to attend the school, takes him shopping for the necessary school equipment such as cauldron and wand, and offers the first sign of affection that Harry can remember. Uncle Vernon rants and tries to prevent Harry from attending the school.

But when Vernon ridicules the name of Albus Dumbledore, the wise and beloved headmaster of Hogwarts, Hagrid hexes Dudley who sprouts a pig's tail, necessitating a visit to a private hospital. The train for Hogwarts leaves from London's King's Cross station, where Harry befriends the wizard Weasley family, who show him how to enter the magical Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

Hogwarts has four houses, and the new first year students are placed into the appropriate house (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and the sinister Slytherin) by a Sorting hat. Harry's life takes a definite upturn as he finds he is a natural broomstick flyer and is chosen for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. This high flying game with three kinds of balls and seven players per team does lead to injuries. Madam Pomfrey is the school nurse and runs the hospital wing. She cures with special spells and the magic of rest.

The year at Hogwarts is filled with adventure, friendship, and danger. There are characters who seem to detest Harry, such as Potions teacher Severus Snape and a Slytherin first year, Draco Malfoy, mysterious characters such as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Quirrell, as well as a colorful assortment of ghosts and magical creatures. Harry and his Gryffindor friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger enter a quest: to prevent the sorcerer's stone from falling into the hands of Voldemort and his allies. The stone offers eternal life and hence would be key to Voldemort's plans to return to power.

During part of the adventure, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised, and mourns the loss of his parents anew as he sees them in the reflection. As the astute headmaster Dumbledore teaches Harry, however, love is more powerful than evil and death may not be the worst outcome: "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." (p. 297)

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second in a planned series of seven books (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry's summer with the Dursley family is initially more pleasant because the Dursleys are afraid of Harry's wizard powers and do not realize that he is forbidden to use magic outside of school. However, after a magic spell is performed by a visiting, self-flagellating house-elf, Dobby, Uncle Vernon is informed of this school rule and imprisons Harry in his bedroom.

With this maneuver and others, Dobby tries to not only warn Harry that his life is in danger but also prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts. Barred and sealed in his room, Harry is forced to live off meager portions of soup, which he shares with his owl, Hedwig, until he is rescued by several of the Weasley boys.

Though Harry (now age 12) and Ron miss the train to Hogwarts, they manage to arrive, meet the Whomping Willow (a violent magical tree that beats anything near it), and are nearly expelled by the strict but kind-hearted Transfiguration Professor Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House. Many of the students, teachers, assorted creatures and magical items (e.g., the invisibility cloak) return in this book, and again a dangerous adventure features Harry, Ron, and their brainy friend, Hermione.

Ron's younger sister, Ginny, is now an impressionable Gryffindor first year student. The adventure leads Harry to the past, a young but evil Voldemort, and more encounters with snakes, Snape, spiders, the Malfoys, and Moaning Myrtle, the ghost of the girls' bathroom.

Illness, particularly an altered, petrified state, plays a prominent role in this book, requiring the healing powers of Madame Pomfrey and the maturing of mandrakes nurtured by Herbology Professor Sprout. Famed author and narcissist Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, muffs the healing of Harry's broken arm, a Quidditch injury, and Harry must go to Madame Pomfrey in the hospital wing for the proper, though painful treatment. Madame Pomfrey is also helpful with a Polyjuice potion gone awry--the potion is supposed to transform the drinker into another person for an hour.

Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, whose flaming death and rebirth is witnessed by Harry, helps in numerous ways, including the healing powers of its tears. But perhaps, as in the first book, Dumbledore's concern and wisdom are most soothing for Harry. Harry, worried about his strange capabilities that link him with Voldemort, such as their shared ability to talk with snakes (Parseltongue), and that the Sorting hat considered placing Harry in Slytherin House and only put him in Gryffindor due to Harry's request, is reassured by Dumbledore that Gryffindor was the right choice: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (p 333)

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third of a planned series of seven books (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry, forced to suffer another summer with the Dursleys, has just turned thirteen. When Uncle Vernon's sister arrives and proceeds to abuse Harry, he rebels, runs away with his heavy school trunk and is picked up by the Knight Bus, a wizard transportation vehicle. Meanwhile, the nine-member Weasley family, usually short of money, have won a wizard lottery and are using the money to visit the eldest son, Bill, in Egypt.

Sirius Black, whose motorcycle was featured in the first chapter of the first book, has escaped Azkaban and the prison guards known as Dementors. Sirius was imprisoned just after the death of Harry's parents when he was caught at the scene of another horrendous crime. Special precautions for Harry's safety are arranged by Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge. When Harry meets a Dementor on the train to Hogwarts, he blacks out as he feels a rush of coldness, a complete lack of happiness or future, and relives his worst memories. Remus Lupin, the mysterious, gentle and periodically ill Defense of the Dark Arts Professor, provides the antidote: chocolate.

Thus begins Harry's third year at Hogwarts. Hermione signs up for an especially busy, seemingly impossible, schedule of classes. Ron's old pet rat, Scabbers, takes a turn for the worse, despite Ron's attention and care. The invisibility cloak again proves useful, as does a magical map. Hagrid, cleared of the cloud that had been hanging over him since his school days, is promoted to teacher: Care of Magical Creatures. However, an injury to Draco Malfoy by Buckbeak the hippogriff (a flying bird-horse) during the first class leads to another investigation.

Bizarre characters, such as the doom-predicting Divination teacher, Sibyll Trelawney, exciting Quidditch matches with a new broomstick for Harry, more run-ins with Snape, and a peek at Hogsmeade, an all magic village, round out the story. Ron, Hermione, and Harry's dangerous adventure leads to the exposure of Sirius Black, the truth of his connection to Harry's parents, and new discoveries for Harry about his father. Our heroes also discover who is the servant to Voldemort, the Dark Lord.

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Survival Rates

Clyde, Mary

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

In the title story of this collection, "Survival Rates," a husband's thyroid cancer appears to be a greater threat to his marriage than it does to his health. The young girl who survives an accident in "Jumping" ends up a casualty anyway. In "Howard Johnson's House," a plastic surgeon repairs a nine year old girl's nose after it is severely damaged by a dog bite. Even before the injury, however, the child's nose was hideous. When the surgeon gives her a cosmetically perfect nose, the girl's mother is not merely disappointed but outraged. Two girls must adapt to life after colon surgery in "Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose."

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Brother of Sleep

Schneider, Robert

Last Updated: Feb-29-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Consider the possibility of a man whose sense of hearing is so enhanced that he can discern the noise of the entire world and also mimic all the sounds made by men and beasts. Imagine a human being who can SEE sounds as well as hear them. It is little wonder that he would have an affinity and talent for music.

Johannes Elias Alder is such a musical genius born in 1803 with a preternatural gift of hearing. The illegitimate son of the village curate, Elias experiences a physical metamorphosis as a child and by the age of ten is already a man. He effortlessly composes magnificent music that he plays on the organ.

Although Elias falls in love with his cousin, Elsbeth, she marries another man. After this loss, he becomes tired of life. Elias commits suicide at the age of 22 by refusing to sleep and succumbing to starvation and an overdose of belladonna.

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Finn

Bacon, Katherine Jay

Last Updated: Jan-28-2000
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Traumatized from a small plane accident that killed his parents and sister and injured him, Finn has returned to his grandmother's farm in Vermont where he's always spent happy summers, to regroup and continue his life. His trauma has left him unable to speak.

At the farm he is surrounded by the healing presences of his grandmother, an old summer friend, Julia, and the animals. Between painful flashback memories of the accident, Finn begins to allow himself to enjoy moments, especially in the tolerant and undemanding presence of the girl and the woman who are also grieving, but who find ways to help him reclaim life and the present.

Visiting an old childhood hideaway in nearby pine woods, Finn and Julia run into drug dealers who use the isolated spot for their transactions. Finn finally finds his voice when he is forced to rescue Julia in the midst of a spreading fire from an abandoned well into which she was dropped by a panicked drug dealer who feared exposure.

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