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This short novel relates how a catastrophe involving strangers perturbs the lives of people who live in or near the site where the disaster occurs. The event is an airplane crash; the site, the small town of Bounds, Texas. Told as an inner monologue by each person who either witnessed the crash, or became directly involved in its aftermath, the well crafted narrative weaves back and forth among a widowed postmistress into whose field the plane falls; a priest who is questioning his calling and who administers last rites to all of the victims; a skeptical newspaper reporter; a reclusive young man who ghoulishly hunts souvenirs in the wreckage.
The postmistress hovers between dismay at the ruination of her field and curiosity and concern over the far-flung surviving relatives who come to visit the site long afterwards. Her thoughts are filled with memories of her husband and of the evolving relationship with her married son. She ponders that before the crash, ". . . seemed like I'd lived in a fishtank. "Then, "something shattered" and ". . . the whole world poured in."
The priest keeps the church doors open to strangers, including mourners from far away. This runs up the utility bill, drawing criticism from the parish council. So shaken is he by their small-mindedness and by his vocational doubts that he cannot say Mass. The reclusive souvenir hunter, who pocketed a body part, a hand, from the crash site, is haunted by ". . . that hand against my hand . . ." The newspaper reporter feels compelled to re-visit the scene months later.
Summary:The new U.S. President is tiny, strange, and apparently brilliant. Somehow the people believe that he will identify problems and find solutions. People are fainting. No one seems to know what is going on. No one thought such a tiny man could be elected President, but he won in a landslide. The society seems to believe the President can do great things; but no one seems to have any idea what those might be. Meanwhile, people keep fainting.
Summary:James, a dwarf, lives in a dwarf house and has a dwarf girl-friend. His brother, MacDonald, thinks of James as a dwarf first and a person second. MacDonald is really bothered by James wanting to marry--as if marriage and sexual relations were something dwarfs shouldn't do. When MacDonald tells his mother James has other people to talk to in the dwarf house, she says, "Dwarfs, not people. He's hiding from the real world." She too does not see dwarfs as real people, and sees herself as punished by giving birth to a dwarf. Yet at the wedding itself, the bride is genuinely happy, as MacDonald recognizes to his surprise.
Aimee and Ralph work at a carnival, Ralph collecting tickets at the Mirror Maze where uneven mirrors reflect distorted images. A dwarf named Mr. Bigelow comes to the maze; Ralph takes Aimee in to spy on the dwarf as he goes into a mirror room which reflects him as tall and slender. Ralph enjoys sneering at the dwarf, but Aimee feels sad and also feels very attracted to him. She investigates, learns he's a writer, wants to help him.
She decides to buy a mirror like one in the maze that reflects him as normal. Ralph, out of spite and perhaps some jealousy, replaces the enlarging mirror with one that makes people seem tiny. The dwarf "shrieking hysterically and sobbing" runs out of the maze. Aimee feels desperately sad and guilty, because Ralph would not have played that trick if he weren't irritated by her interest in Mr. Bigelow.
Summary:An overweight, young teenager whose mother is having a nervous breakdown, and whose father doesn't know what to do, is invited to spend the summer with her cousin in Mississippi. Through telling lies about her background, she works her way into popularity on her cousin's coattails. Then a boyfriend tells her she should lose weight, and she pretends there is something wrong with her thyroid. Still, she jumps at the challenge of swimming across the lake (five miles) with him, which she accomplishes to great applause, but when she gets back, her parents are there to take her home. Back in Indiana, she tries to keep the glow of the summer dream.
Summary:Doris Grumbach, novelist and critic, experienced the landmark of her seventieth birthday as a traumatic event. She resolved to keep a diary during the months surrounding this time, both to record her "despair" and to seek answers to "what has my life meant?" The result is a relentless reflection on the losses associated with growing old, and on the loss of civility associated with contemporary urban life. Yet there is the liberation which age allows, in setting priorities and discarding the trivial. Ever observant and informed, Grumbach’s commentary on the present and the past is both interesting and moving.
This story concerns the death of a child and failures of communication. Scotty, an eight year old, is hit by a car on his birthday. His mother had ordered a birthday cake but "there were no pleasantries between" her and the baker. Scotty is hospitalized, unconscious, and the cake is forgotten. Dr. Francis reassures the anxious parents that all will be well when the boy wakes up.
The baker phones the parents’ home in the dead of night (when he does his baking) because the cake hasn’t been picked up, but they can’t figure out who he is or what he wants. At the same time the doctors and staff can’t and won’t answer their questions about why Scotty isn’t waking up. Dr. Francis comes to the hospital to check the child, looking tanned, meticulously dressed, as if he has just been out for the evening- he has a life outside of the hospital, but the parents have none. When they do run home, separately, to take a break, the baker torments them with his mysterious late-night calls. Their confusion and isolation deepen. The child dies-"a one-in-a-million circumstance."
The mother finally realizes that it is the baker who has been calling and tracks him down, enraged. She unleashes all of the anger which she had been unable to express to the doctors. The baker is stunned to learn about the child’s death; he begs forgiveness and offers them warm delicious cinnamon rolls. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this" and they are comforted.
Helen van Horne, the good doctor, has left her solitary practice as a physician in rural East Africa to become chief of the Department of Medicine at City Hospital. She is a tough, hard-as-nails woman who has given up the comforts of marriage, family, and human indiscretion for her profession. While the folks in South Bronx initially "hate" her because of her skin color, they soon learn that van Horne is a model of rectitude, dedication, and compassion. The Hispanic chief resident becomes her disciple.
Van Horne's yearning for human comfort and sexual gratification brings her into intimate contact with a lazy, irresponsible, but charming male student. Out of weakness, she tells the failing student that he will pass the rotation, but is later challenged by the chief resident, who has left her own lazy husband and dedicated herself to be "just like you." Van Horne realizes her own weakness, allows the failing grade to be recorded, then contemplates (but rejects) suicide.
A physician stands in the laundry, folding her baby’s diapers, and thinks about Mr. Dantio, who died of wildly metastatic cancer. She reflects on the development of her relationship with Mr. Dantio during the time that she was pregnant. Toward the end, he developed a lung infiltrate, maybe a type of pneumonia. There was a chance that a biopsy might have helped--perhaps he had a treatable infection--but she recommended against it. Now she wonders about this decision. She wonders also about what the other physicians think of her: "you don’t really want to be a doctor anyway, you must be conflicted to have a child . . . . " She remembers seeing Mrs. Dantio in the supermarket shortly after her husband died, and crying with her. She asks herself: Will I ever be a REAL doctor, "because in moments of great stress I revert to my native tongue."
Summary:A medical student at Lincoln Hospital in the south Bronx is called to the Emergency Room, where a gang war is going on. She plunges through fighting bodies in the waiting room to reach the treatment area, where she is enlisted to ride an ambulance with a critically injured and intubated patient. During the trip, the ambulance jerks, the tube comes out, and the student tries but fails to ventilate him with mouth-to-mouth respiration. At the other hospital, she is turned away from the cafeteria because her clothes are blood-soaked. The patient dies. Although she feels terrible, her friend Marie, a practical nurse, comforts her with a touch of ordinary love, a photo of her new grandchild.