Showing 311 - 320 of 495 annotations tagged with the keyword "Women's Health"

Alias Grace

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

For more than fifteen years, Irish-born Grace Marks has been confined for the 1843 murder of housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, and her employer, Thomas Kinnear, at their home north of Toronto. Her convicted accomplice was hanged, accusing Grace with his last breath, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison at the last minute. Because of her amnesia and outbursts of rage and panic, she was held in the Lunatic Asylum before being sent to the Kingston [Ontario] Penitentiary.

Beautiful, intelligent, and strangely poised, Grace intrigues worthy townsfolk, spiritualists, and some of her jailers, who grant her the privilege of outside work, believe in her innocence, and strive for a pardon. In looking for medical approbation, they consult Dr. Simon Jordan, a young American doctor who is interested in insanity and memory loss. Without explaining his purpose, he brings her vegetables and other familiar objects, hoping to stimulate recollection of her life.

Interspersed with Jordan's own problems, Grace's story unfolds in her own words, from her poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland and the emigration voyage that killed her mother, leaving her and her younger siblings to a neglectful father, through her short life in service, to the dreadful events of autumn 1843. She has suffered many losses, including the death of her mother to ship fever, and that of her friend and fellow servant, Mary Whitney, from an illegally procured abortion. After many weeks, Jordan abandons his project in frustration and ambiguity. The novel ends years later with forty-six year-old Grace's discharge from prison in 1872, nearly thirty years after the crime.

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Rape Fantasies

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Written in 1977, "Rape Fantasies" appears to be a recap of a conversation among several women during their lunch hour, a few of them playing bridge, one--Chrissy the receptionist--reading aloud from a tabloid. When Chrissy asks the question, "How about it, girls, do you have rape fantasies?" the story unfolds with each woman’s response, all retold from the perspective of Estelle, who’s doing her best to deflect the entire conversation by concentrating on her bidding.

The conversation is tragically ironic, moving from woman to woman, Darlene calling the entire subject "disgusting," Greta describing a Tarzan-like scenario, Chrissy describing hers in a bubble bath, when Estelle, ever the voice of reason, reminds them that what they’re describing are sexual fantasies: "Listen . . . those aren’t rape fantasies. I mean, you aren’t getting raped, it’s just some guy you haven’t met formally who happens to be more attractive than Derek Cummins . . . and you have a good time. Rape is when they’ve got a knife or something and you don’t want to" (104).

Estelle then describes her rape fantasy where she deflects her attacker by squirting juice from a plastic lemon in his eyes ("You should hear the one about the Easy Off Cleaner"), but also includes the one where "this short, ugly fellow comes up and grabs my arm . . . [and] I say, kind of disgusted, ’Oh for Chrissake,’ and he starts to cry," which prompts a wave of sympathy in Estelle (106). And there are more, each with Estelle warding off her attacker through outsmarting him ("I’ve just found out I have leukemia"), or talking him out of it.

As the narrative continues, the reader becomes aware that Estelle is addressing someone in addition to the reader--"I hope you don’t mind me holding my nose like this . . . " (107) and that person is probably a man (twice Estelle says, "But I guess it’s different for a guy"). As the story ends, we realize that Estelle all along has been in a bar, speaking to a man she has just met, worrying about the possibility she will be raped by him. "Like, how could a fellow do that to a person he’s just had a long conversation with, once you let them know you’re human, you have a life too, I don’t see how they could go ahead with it, right?" (110). We are left wondering whether all these "conversations" are Estelle’s deliberate inventions, her way of trying to control a potentially dangerous social interaction.

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Equal Affections

Leavitt, David

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first part of this novel presents a detailed picture of the Jewish Californian Cooper family, centering on the sixty-year-old Louise, who is dying of breast cancer. Her husband, Nat, is unfaithful, and, she suspects, only loves her when she is at her weakest and most sick. Her daughter, April, is a lesbian folk singer who becomes pregnant with the help of a gay male friend and a turkey baster. Danny, the son, is also gay, living in New York with Walter, his lover, who is becoming increasingly detached and obsessed with internet sex groups.

Louise considers herself lucky, though, compared with her younger sister Eleanor, partially disabled by childhood polio, disorganized and ill-groomed and married to Sid, whom Louise finds deeply unattractive. Eleanor's son is a sociopathic drug addict, and her daughter has ovarian cancer caused by Eleanor's taking DES (diethylstilbesterol) in pregnancy. She sends Louise newspaper cuttings about the causes of homosexuality and the dangers of AIDS.

The first part having established the complex dynamics and histories of the family's relationships, the second brings the entire family together in the crisis of Louise's final illness and death (a reaction to chemotherapy drugs causes severe chemical burns and she dies in a burn unit in a San Francisco hospital). After her death, the new dynamics of the family are established, and Louise's son and daughter conclude that their mother had "a terrible life" (p. 261).

The short third part shows that no such conclusion is possible, that even those closest to us remain terribly but fascinatingly unknowable. A flashback to a point just before Louise's final illness describes her attempt to convert to Catholicism and a brief moment in which she experiences a marvelous sense of complete harmony.

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Bodily Harm

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Rennie is a freelance magazine writer. She writes mostly about fashion trends or travel and spends her free time with her controlling but sensual boyfriend, Jake. Her life changes dramatically when she finds out she has breast cancer, then has one breast removed. She feels as if she is about to die, as if worms are eating away at her insides.

Her boyfriend pretends to feel fine about it, but Rennie senses his disgust and their relationship ends. She realizes that she is in love with her surgeon. After all, he has seen a part of her that even she herself has never seen--her inside. The married surgeon is guilt-ridden and Rennie decides to go on vacation.

She ends up on a small island near Grenada. While she is there, a coup breaks out. Rennie becomes a hostage. Upon her release, she returns home. Now, however, she feels lucky to be alive and feels more alive than many around her.

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Plot

Rankine, Claudia

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Liv is pregnant. She is an artist, and married to Erland. She names the fetus, a boy, Ersatz (a replacement, a copy, a person not yet real?). This book-long poem, divided into short segments making up nine (month-like) chapters, reconstructs her pregnancy in words, often literally, using words-within-words (for instance in a section called "Proximity of Posed to Exposed"), echoing people-within-(pregnant)-people, ideas emerging from words, and life (and death) emerging from bodies.

The poem does not offer a simple coherent narrative, although it does follow the biological narrative form of gestation. Instead it circles around the experience of containing another person, and the dissonance Liv seems to find between biological and verbal or cultural creating. Liv's ambivalence about this tension is captured throughout the work, perhaps most notably in her exploration of a painting of the dead Virginia Woolf, the drowned body of a childless woman writer, now become "beached debris." The final part of the poem captures powerfully the experience of childbirth, and the afterword is in a new voice, that of Liv's son.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This chapbook by Kentucky poet Leatha Kendrick features a sequence of poems dealing with her experience of breast cancer and mastectomy. The "science" in the title moves from a little girl’s fascination with nature, and her insight that "all she learned was nothing / is only what you thought you saw" (p. 2); through her mature view of "these spiky shadows" on ultrasound (p. 10); to chemotherapy, where she feels "like the muck this stuff is supposed to make of the fast- / dividing cells" (p.18).

But the science of cancer fails to amputate the poet’s narrative. Early on, "My first love called them Skeeter and Bite. / Equal then, if small. Skeeter got / most of his attention." (p. 14) Later, during her treatment, "Excuse me while I grow bald and fat." (p. 21) Eventually she learns, "The map back is a flat / red road, underpinned with bone, / she must learn to dance upon." (p. 28).

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Buying Dad

Aizley, Harlyn

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this memoir, subtitled "One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor," lesbian author and academic Harlyn Aizley confronts her approaching fortieth birthday by deciding to have a child. She and her partner, Faith, begin the process of choosing its biological father. The first major decision: a known or unknown sperm donor? Eventually they choose an unknown one, from a sperm bank with an identity-release program that will allow their child the option of meeting her biological father after she turns eighteen.

Aizley narrates, in absorbing and often very funny detail, the eight months it takes her to conceive, and then the nine months of pregnancy culminating in the birth of a daughter. Sad but telling counterpoints to this narrative are the terrorist attacks in September 2001, which occur during Aizley's pregnancy, and the experience of her mother, who dies three months after the baby's birth, of ovarian cancer.

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The Ash Garden

Bock, Dennis

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Emiko a child survivor of Hiroshima, is now a documentary filmmaker. She has horrific memories of August 1945 when she lost her parents and little brother, and of the years of painful operations and homesickness in America where she was sent to restore her mutilated face. She is hoping to interview Anton Böll, a scientist who had fled Germany to work on the Manhattan project.

Böll contends that he had been unaware of human rights abuses; he left Europe because the Nazi regime had cramped his scientific style. As a consequence, his mother was imprisoned and killed. During the war, he met his Austrian-born Jewish wife, Sophie, at a displaced persons camp in Canada. Sophie had lost her whole family, but she does not speak of them and he does not ask.

Briefly they knew happiness, but soon Böll left for work on the bomb and on to Hiroshima in its aftermath. Their marriage would never be the same. For the rest of his life, Böll justified his involvement as a "dream" turned "nightmare" emerging from the imperative demands of a virtuous science. When Emiko approaches him, he hesitates. He does not want to risk blame. But his dying wife knows that absolution for unacknowledged guilt is what he craves.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In 1869, national and medical attention was focused on a poor family in Wales. The daughter, twelve year-old Sarah Jacob, was bedridden with a strange ailment characterized by paralysis, staring fits, and anorexia. Yet she did not waste away. On the contrary, she seemed to survive comfortably with only few drops of water daily. Credulous folk came to visit, knowing that such abstinence had been the practice of many Christian saints; they would leave a few coins as an offering, although the family protested that money had never been requested. Others claimed it was a hoax.

Eventually the doctors and vicars became curious. An initial investigation upheld the family’s position that the girl did not eat. A more rigorous second investigation was designed by medical professors from Guy’s Hospital in London and carried out by trained nurses who sat knitting at the bedside. It resulted in the girl’s death.

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Annina

Dunmore, Helen

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

When I had Annina, the narrator says, her first-born child was eight years old, frost covered the geraniums, and something "warm and wet" ran down her legs. She lost her second pregnancy at only nine weeks from a spontaneous abortion. Secretly, she names the tiny girl "Annina" and tucks her inside her heart and mind, where for years she nurtures her, protects her, dresses her, listens to her language, and watches her grow to a daring adventuress, though she is Thumbelina small, and carries a needle for a sword. Annina eventually moves on and the narrator will not dare to ask her to come home.

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