Showing 351 - 360 of 517 annotations tagged with the keyword "Ordinary Life"

Turning Fifty

Dunn, Stephen

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In the first of this poem's three stanzas, the narrator is looking out the window, presumably on or near his fiftieth birthday. He watches as a baby possum is snatched up by a fox while the possum's mother stands dumbly by. Seeing this, the narrator notes that it is one more thing he "couldn't do anything about." In fact, he sees the drama dispassionately. He says that instead of "feeling very much" he had the sense of "something dull / like a small door being shut, / a door to someone else's house."

In the next stanza, later that night, the narrator is flipping through the TV channels but stops when he is captivated by a nurse who "had a beautiful smile / while she spoke about triage and death." Again he observes death from afar as the nurse talks about her experiences in Viet Nam and how a dying soldier asked her to bend closer so he could smell her hair.

In the final stanza, the narrator's wife comes home, tired. The narrator, however, is somehow energized; he wants to talk about the possum, the fox, and the young man who "wanted one last chaste sense / of a woman." The wife wants a drink, some music, everything "normal." But the narrator, transformed by the nurse's smile, its "pretty hint of pain / the other expressions it concealed," is no longer just an observer.

He now has "something to say," something almost inexpressible about life and death, the death that he is moving closer to but was, at the poem's beginning, unable to face. The nurse's experience--her proximity to death, her ability not only to observe but to acknowledge and honor it--has somehow transformed him.

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Eclipse

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Poet and writer Jeanne Bryner has assembled 24 short stories to give us Eclipse, a wise and tender collection that reflects her blue-collar roots in Appalachia and industrial Ohio, and also her work as a registered nurse. These stories are about real human beings, flawed and graced, who, for the most part, care for one another, whether family or stranger, with compassion and the kind of acceptance that comes from living a hard life. Bryner's writing skills move these characters beyond easy stereotype and turn their actions--their anger over the death of a loved one or the cooking of a Sunday supper--into transformative metaphors that illuminate the sorrows and joys of everyday life.

The following stories might be of particular interest to those teaching or studying literature and medicine: "Sara's Daughters," in which a woman undergoes artificial insemination and, through her thoughts and her conversations with the nurse, perfectly reveals an infertile woman's humiliation, longing, and hope; "The Jaws of Life," in which a young woman takes her Aunt Mavis to visit Uncle Webster in a nursing home and there observes the poignant interactions of the well and the dying, the young and the old, moments infused with both charity and dread.

In addition: "Turn the Radio to a Gospel Station," in which two cleaning ladies in a hospital ER observe and philosophize about what goes on around them, the deaths and near-deaths, the kindness or mutinies of nurses, the doctors' mechanical repetition of questions, the lovers hiding in the linen closet; "The Gemini Sisters," in which a group of weight-watching women meet to shed pounds and talk about life; "Foxglove Canyon," in which a registered nurse with forty year's experience relates memories of her work, her family, and how things change when a writer comes to teach the staff and the patients about poetry, "the flower you stumble across growing near the barn, a purple bloom that nobody planted."

"Red Corvette" examines the intimacy that develops between family members, particularly when one is caregiver to the other. In this story a woman comes to visit her post-op sister and remembers, while watching her sister suffer in pain, their childhood, those moments of freedom and health she yearns for her sister to regain.

"The Feel of Flannel" is about a woman who, like her mother and grandmother, has breast cancer. She refuses to participate in a research project but instead barrels ahead into her uncertain future, planning to wear her nightgown to the grocery store and tattoo her husband's name "right here when this port comes out."

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Hairball

Atwood, Margaret

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This well crafted story concerns a contemporary woman in her thirties who undergoes significant personal losses; in fact, she seems to lose or lack an identity. Over the years, Kat, an "avant garde" fashion photographer, has altered her image, even her name, to suit the situation and the times. She has had two abortions and "learned to say that she didn't want children anyway."

The story begins when Kat undergoes surgical removal of a rare and peculiar ovarian tumor containing hair, teeth, bones (the clinical term is a dermoid cyst ); Kat dubs it "hairball " and stores it in formaldehyde on her mantelpiece. We learn that Kat's relationship with her married lover is going sour, that he will replace her as creative director at work. She fantasizes that she has given birth to "hairball" who she sees as the "warped child" of their failed relationship. Physical symptoms accompany Kat's growing emotional confusion. Hairball becomes the vehicle for an ultimate bizarre act reflecting Kat's personality disintegration. She has gone from being Katherine to Kath to Kat, to K, to being "temporarily without a name."

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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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Middlesex

Eugenides, Jeffrey

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this fictional autobiography is Cal Stephanides, an American of Greek descent with a hereditary 5-alpha-reductase deficiency that gives her the prepubertal anatomy (and thus the social upbringing) of a girl, but at puberty begins her transformation into ambiguity, then maleness, and then, gradually, masculinity.

The novel is a kind of biography, not just of Cal, but also of the mutant gene that causes her/his condition. It is transmitted from a small village in Smyrna, through his grandparents, who were also brother and sister and who married on the ship to America, apparently leaving behind family as well as national identity. Their Greekness and the gene come with them, and the consequences of their incest haunts Cal's grandmother, Desdemona, until the very end of the novel.

The family settles in Detroit, and a third biographical strand is the story of the Greek immigrant community in 20th century America, from Ford's assembly lines to bootlegging during the prohibition, through Detroit race riots and then to affluent suburbia.

Cal's family settles in the suburb of Middlesex, and the focus narrows to the individual. Calliope is raised as a girl, but in adolescence, Callie learns about hermaphroditism, narrowly escapes sex-assignment surgery, becomes a performer in a seventies sex show in San Francisco, and finally returns home to Middlesex, Grosse Point, Michigan, as a male. The story is framed by Cal's much later adult life as a man in Berlin, and his successful romance with a woman he meets there.

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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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Three Sisters

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Oct-05-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

The play takes place over a several-year period in the provincial town in which the Prozorov sisters and their brother Andrei live. Olga, the oldest, is a high school teacher; Masha is unhappily married to a teacher in the same school; and Irina and Andrei have dreams of moving back to Moscow. Vershinin, the new Army commander, joins the group of military hangers-on around the Prozorov home, a group that also includes the ineffectual doctor, Chebutykin, who lets everyone know that he has forgotten all the medicine he ever knew.

As time passes, Andrei marries Natalya and devotes himself to gambling, while Natalya has babies and takes over the household. Masha has a romantic affair with Vershinin; Natalya commits adultery with the school administrator. A fire rages through the town, but Chebutykin is drunk and unable to help the victims. In the end, just before the Army contingent moves to another post, Irina's fiancee is killed in a duel.

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The Seagull

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Oct-05-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

At Madame Treplev's estate, her son, Konstantin, presents an outdoor performance of his new play, in which the single character (actually just a voice) is played by Nina, a neighbor's daughter, with whom Konstantin is hopelessly in love. When Madame Treplev, a famous actress, makes light of the angst-filled play, Konstantin angrily stops the performance

Later, Nina becomes infatuated with Trigorin, a literary man and Madame Treplev's current lover. When Madame Treplev and Trigorin move back to Moscow, Nina follows, hoping to become an actress. There, she has an affair with Trigorin. Masha, the daughter of the family steward, is in love with Konstantin (who couldn't care less for her), but marries Medvedenko, the local schoolmaster.

Two years later, Nina has returned to the country, where Konstantin continues to live and work on his writing. Konstantin believes that he and Nina might make a fresh start together, but she rejects him. In the end, he goes out and shoots himself.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The Longhettis are an Italian-American working class family. Nick (Peter Falk) is a construction worker. He and his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) have three children. Mabel is unusual, perhaps mentally ill, maybe with a bipolar or borderline disorder, but diagnosis is not really the point. She is warm, spontaneous, beautiful, and an affectionate if inconsistent mother. Because Mabel is so eccentric and unpredictable, the Longhetti family seems to function at a kind of delicate equilibrium.

This stability is disrupted when Nick fails to get away from work on a night he and Mabel had planned to spend alone together. The children are with her mother, and Mabel finds it intolerable to be alone, so she gets drunk, goes out, and picks up someone in a bar. The next morning Nick brings a crowd of work mates home with him after the night shift and Mabel copes with the invasion by cooking up a spectacular spaghetti breakfast and flirting outrageously with one of Nick's friends.

Later when a neighbour brings his children to play, Mabel again behaves inappropriately. Nick, under pressure from his mother and Mabel's physician, is persuaded to have his wife institutionalized. She is taken away. Nick angrily rejects the concern of his friends, but struggles terribly to manage the children.

The film ends with the evening of Mabel's return from hospital. Nick and his mother have arranged a dinner party to celebrate her recovery, but it is quickly clear that, despite electroconvulsive therapy, Mabel is unchanged. It also becomes more evident than ever that her "madness" is rooted as much in the family's social network, her uncomprehending parents, judgmental mother-in-law, and volatile husband, as it is in her own brain or personality. But, after an appalling evening, Mabel and Nick put the children to bed and then go about cleaning up the house as usual, their fragile normality restored for now.

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Blue Shoe

Lamott, Anne

Last Updated: Jun-02-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mattie, recently divorced from Nick, the father of her two children, is coping with the aftermath of divorce, functioning as a single parent, feeling ambivalence toward Nick who still shows up and sometimes stays the night, and becoming aware of her own attraction to other men. Her mother, an aging social activist, lives nearby with her lover and companion who copes with the mother’s insistent personality and mood swings better than Mattie. Her brother, Al, also lives nearby and fills in some of the father functions for Mattie’s children.

In the background is the story of Mattie’s father, now dead, much loved by both Mattie and Al, who, as it turns out, fathered a child now living in the community by a young girl about Mattie’s age. The mother of the child lives in the squalor of near homelessness at the edge of town. This disclosure, Mattie’s blossoming friendship and eventual romance with the man who comes to repair her house, and Mattie’s mother’s descent into dementia are the three main threads of plot in this story of pain, forgiveness, and healing in family life.

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