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The book is a collection of 17 short stories, all of which center on physicians. "His First Operation" is about a student’s first view of surgery. He promptly faints. "A False Start" is about a doctor trying to establish a practice. He only succeeds by giving up the opportunity to treat the richest man in town, as he is the patient of another doctor. He and the doctor he thus honors become partners.
"The Doctors of Hoyland" deals with the issue of female doctors. Dr. Ripley has an established practice in Hoyland and when a famous doctor moves into the neighborhood he is secure enough to go visit him and offer him welcome. "He" turns out to be a woman, Dr. Smith.
Dr. Ripley is outraged; he thinks female doctors are a biological impossibility. Any woman who becomes a doctor must be unwomanly, otherwise how could she stand the sight of blood or inflict necessary pain? The woman doctor is courteous, but shows him the flaws in his thinking. The two are only reconciled when she is forced to treat his broken leg. He discovers how graceful, womanly, and skilled she is and asks for her hand, but she turns him down.
Summary:Opening during the early days of World War II, this haunting story of love, war, families and nations, good and evil covers 60 plus years in the life of a young Greek woman on the island of Cephallonia. The narrative traces the disruption of the peace of the old village by Italian occupation, German cleansing, and Communist infiltration in developing a history, while revolving around the personal life stories of the island physician, his daughter and her deep and romantic love for an enemy soldier, and the cowardice and bravery of people caught up in the horrors of war.
De Quincey was a well-known 19th century English journalist and essayist. He was orphaned at a young age and sent away to school, where he was successful but bored and soon ran away. He then spent several years living as a vagrant in Wales, then London. In London, he was reunited with an old family friend who supported him financially and sent him to study at Oxford.
At age 28, De Quincey began to use opium (mixed with alcohol in the form of laudanum) regularly to treat his severe stomach pains. Though his intake was moderate at first, he soon became addicted. At first he rationalized the use of the drug. Later, he experienced opium-induced stupors in which he could not distinguish dream from reality nor note the passage of time.
He also developed memory loss and long periods of depression. He resolved to wean himself from the drug and did so, although in the final version (1856) of this memoir he admits to having slipped back into addiction a number of times.
Summary:In "Delivery," an African-American woman deals with the issues of personal identity for herself and her soon-to-be-born child. This child is alternatively a scheming enemy, a gentle baby, and an awesome stranger. Similarly, the staff around the speaker are variously accomplices in a persecutory treatment, or helpmates in a difficult but joyful experience. The male doctors tend not to listen to the speaker, who herself has trouble knowing to what part of her own feelings she should listen. By the end, the narrator gives birth to a male son, whom she wants to protect, but who feels like a stranger.
Summary:In typical, twisted Cummings syntax without punctuation or capitalization, the author relates an encounter with an unconscious drunk on the street. Other staunch citizens hurry by. The drunk is "swaddled with a frozen brook of pinkest vomit," one hand "clenched weakly dirt," and his trouser fly is open. The author takes up the challenge of a good Samaritan, brushing off the "stiffened puke." But he closes with the opposite of self-righteousness: "i put him all into my arms and staggered banged with terror through a million billion trillion stars."
Summary:A long story (35 pages) within a book of stories about the author's family, "The House of the Future" movingly describes from the perspective of a precocious 12 year old the death from cancer of his older brother, age 17. The story, subtitled "a reminiscence," conveys in a remarkable way the hopes and fears, the habits and idiosyncrasies of this ordinary and outlandish family. The belief in the clarity of architecture which sustained the younger brother through the year of his older brother's dying, collapses in the end, leaving him to enter a new house, a new ambiguous space, for making sense of his loss.
Summary:In this very short piece, the author plunges the reader immediately into a scene from the American Civil War. A lieutenant, never named, is wounded in the right arm while resting with his troops during an active battle. The next segment of the vignette, almost surreal in its presentation, is comprised of the lieutenant's perceptions of the war going on around him as he walks to the rear in search of the field hospital. At the hospital, the wounded man has a brief, terse, and most unpleasant encounter with the surgeon, who is rude and lies to him. The lieutenant's fear and despair is captured by single lines of tightly controlled metaphor and stark description.
Summary:The poet addresses Jerina, a friend and confidant who knows the narrator’s story of childhood sexual abuse at the hands--"the silent fingers in the dark"--of her own father. The poet states matter-of-factly that she long ago realized there could be no safety anywhere if there was none at home. As an adult she took refuge in her work and neglected her personal life, but now "the girl [of whom she had been ashamed] is rising in me" and she intends to "have what she / has earned, / sweet sighs, safe houses, / hands she can trust."
In this little poem the narrator gives the reader permission to observe an appeal to a higher order for help in deciding how best to care for a ventilator-dependent patient. The narrator seems to be addressing Emma's creator to hear his concerns.
Emma now "lives as a swollen eggplant on its stem" although she was formerly strong and healthy. The poet develops the theme of organicity as the narrator makes his final case for guidance: "I must tend the leaf as best I can / and, anticipating other seasons, / turn the soil."
The narrator remembers a science fair she participated in as a child. The projects presented were diverse. One boy weighed mice before and after killing them in order to measure the weight of the soul. Another made an atom smasher. A girl made cookies from Euglena. The narrator rubs the tar of cigarettes into the shaved backs of mice in order to discover the tremulousness of life.
The narrator says she recalled the fair because the dusky seaside sparrow just became extinct, though its cells are frozen at Walt Disney in case it is ever learned how they may be cloned. She concludes by noting that the cookies won the prize.