Showing 361 - 370 of 513 annotations tagged with the keyword "Ordinary Life"

On with the Story

Barth, John

Last Updated: May-30-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A man and woman, probably late middle-aged and married, check into a tropical holiday resort for their last annual vacation. One of them is dying. The man begins telling stories to the woman, as he has promised to, in the unspoken hope of postponing the ending that will separate them. The book consists of the twelve stories he tells, interspersed with her responses to the stories. Each story is in some way about the same two things: about being half of a couple--about love, partnership, and the prospect of loss--and about narrative--about communication, the construction of meaning, and about the way all stories (and lives), sooner or later, must end.

Like their teller, though, these stories do their best not to reach closure. An example is the second story, "Ad Infinitum," in which a woman receives some bad news by telephone--we deduce it concerns her husband's cancer diagnosis--and goes out to where he is working in the garden in order to tell him the news. She has to cross the space of the garden before giving him the information that will change everything for the worse, beginning the end of his life and their marriage.

It occurs to her that the space she must cross can be infinitely extended if, as Zeno's paradox has it, she can keep halving the distance that remains before she reaches her husband (and thus the end of their story). This would infinitely suspend time in their story. And yet, as she walks, she also knows she WILL reach him . . . until the narrator intervenes by breaking into her thoughts and beginning another story, effectively enacting Zeno's theory of the arrow that keeps re-beginning its flight towards the target. Just as stories stave off death in the frame narrative, they seem able to keep this man happily and innocently gardening, in suspended story-time at least, forever.

In the last story, the narrator returns to all the others, pulling together their interconnected patterns and allowing each a kind of closure that, while it reiterates the storyteller's resistance to endings, his act of "beguiling" himself, his wife, and perhaps death itself, "with narrative possibilities still unforeclosed" (224), also reminds us that stories need to end in order to mean.

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The Schoolmaster

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Fydor Lukitch Sysoev is dressing for his fourteenth annual dinner held in honor of the school teachers. Sysoev has long been considered the best teacher of all and is eager to grasp glory once again, though he thinks the examining inspector tried to sabotage him by asking his students unnecessarily difficult questions. He is very old and has to lie down before he can pull on his boots. He is applauded at the banquet, but is cantankerous to everyone.

In a toast to Sysoev's greatness, the host mentions that the managers have placed a sum of money in the bank for Sysoev's family after his death. Seeing that the faces around him show neither pity, nor respect, but a terrible truth, he leaps up, then bursts into tears. He is taken home where he tells himself that nothing is wrong with him, even as the doctor in the next room says he has less than a week to live.

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Ionych

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Dmitry Ionych Startsev is a physician in a provincial town. He is frequently entertained by the Turkins, the town's most cultivated residents. He falls in love with their daughter, Yekaterina, who teases the doctor by asking him to meet her in the cemetery at 11 PM and then not showing up. Finally, she rejects his suit coldly, saying that she must go to Moscow and study at the conservatory.

Four years later, Startsev has gotten corpulent, built a big practice, become affluent, and lost all interest in romance. Yekaterina returns and tries to rekindle their affair, but Startsev becomes irritated and says to himself, "What a jolly good thing I didn't marry her!" In the end, he just becomes fatter and more irritable, and he shouts at his patients.

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Gooseberries

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Burkin and Ivan Ivanovich seek shelter from the rain in Alehin's country home. As they sit having their tea, Ivan Ivanovich tells the story of his brother, Nikolay, who worked as a government functionary and always dreamed of saving enough money to buy his own country home with a garden and gooseberries. He skimped and saved and finally, after his wife's death, bought an estate.

When Ivan Ivanovich visited him many years later, Nikolay was no longer the self-doubting clerk he once was, but had become a confident (and corpulent) landowner, who was obviously happy with his life and with the delicious gooseberries from the bushes he had planted. Ivan Ivanovich realized then that he, too, was a happy man, despite all the pain and evil in the world.

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Happiness

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

It is a summer night on the steppe and two shepherds are lying on the ground as their sheep sleep. A man on a horse stops to ask them for a light for his pipe, but stays to chat. They discuss the recent death of Yefim Zhmenya, an old man who had sold his soul to the Evil One. You could tell he was evil because people walking past his garden could hear his melons whistle. The older shepherd tells another story about Yefim, whom he had seen appear as a bullock one stormy night.

One of the men observes that there are many treasures buried in the local hills. "Yes," says the old shepherd, "but no one knows where to dig for them." But then he tells them about a map to the treasure and indicates that he knows precisely where to dig. However, when the horsemen asks him what he would do with the treasure if he finds it, the old shepherd can't answer.

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Terror

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Dimitry Silin is a farmer who was once a civil servant in St. Petersburg. The narrator, his good friend, is in love with Silin's wife Marya. One Sunday Silin and the narrator drive to the village to buy food. There, as they wait for their coachman, they meet "Forty Martyrs," a downtrodden drunkard who used to work as a footman for each of them. "Forty Martyrs" whines about his fate, while Silin explains to the narrator that we need not tell ghost stories to enter the mysterious and frightening; ordinary life is inexplicable. "What I'm most afraid of is ordinary, everyday existence, which no one can escape. I can't tell the true from the false when I act and this worries me." (p. 227)

He reveals that although he loves his wife, she does not love him--but she has sworn to remain faithful. Later, they return to Silin's home and he retires early because he has to get up at 3 AM. The narrator and Marya talk and eventually make love. As she is leaving his room, Silin comes back to get the cap he had forgotten. "I could not get Silin's terror out of my mind and it infected me as well." (p. 234) The narrator leaves and never sees Silin and Marya again.

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The Swedish Match

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The police receive a report that Mark Ivanovitch Klyauzov has been murdered. Indeed. he has not left his bedroom in a week. When the inspector and his assistant arrive, they soon find "evidence" that Klyauzov. a man who led a life of drunken debauchery, was strangled in his room, carried out the window, and later stabbed in the garden to finish him off.

Dyukovsky, the brash young assistant inspector. eagerly interprets every clue. He concludes that three perpetrators were involved in the murder. Two held down the drunken Klauzov, while the third person strangled him. They quickly arrest the valet and the gardener. But who is the third culprit? Could it be Klyauzov's sister, who disagreed with him over religion?

Dyukovsky identifies the central clue, an unusual Swedish match dropped at the scene of the crime. By brilliant detective work, he discovers that a pack of Swedish matches was purchased by the police superintendent's young wife. The inspectors confront he--she quickly caves in. However, all is not as it seems, as the story rushes (or perhaps. lurches) to its surprise ending.

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The Beauties

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This quiet little story has two parts. In the first section, the narrator remembers an incident that occurred when he was a high school boy. He was traveling with his grandfather in the Ukraine and they stopped to rest at the home of an Armenian family. The boy was virtually struck dumb by the beauty of the young woman who served them tea. While his grandfather slept, he stood outside in the yard and watched the exquisite young woman do her chores.

In the second section, he remembers an incident from somewhat later, when he was a university student. His train was stopped at a station, and he had gone out to stretch his legs on the platform. He noticed a carelessly dressed young woman, who was standing outside a train window, speaking to one of the passengers.

Once again, he was "suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling I had once experienced in the Armenian village." The narrator also notices the battered and ugly telegraph operator staring at the girl with "a look of tenderness and of the deepest sadness, as though in that girl he saw happiness, his own youth, soberness, purity, wife, children . . . " A bell rang, and the train moved off.

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The Teacher of Literature

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story begins with a group of young people on a riding party at the Shelestov estate. One of the guests is Nikitin, a young-looking man in his mid-20’s, who teachers literature at the local school, and loves Masha, the 18-year-old younger daughter of their host. Later, over dinner Varya, the older daughter, argues with Nikitin over some points of literature, and another guest scolds him for having never read the German writer, Lessing. But Nikitin glides through the evening on a cloud of love. A day later he returns and proposes to Masha.

In the second part of the story, the wedding occurs. Nikitin and Masha are deliriously happy--"’I am immensely happy with you, my joy,’ he used to say, playing with her fingers or plaiting and unplaiting her hair." But soon one of Nikitin’s friends and fellow teachers develops erysipelas and dies. After that, everything returns to normal, so much so that Nikitin has nothing to write in his diary.

Life seems to be closing in on him. He feels like trying to get away from his wife, "Where am I, my God? I am surrounded by vulgarity and vulgarity. Wearisome, insignificant people, pots of sour cream, jugs of milk, cockroaches, stupid women . . . There is nothing more terrible. I must escape from here, I must escape today . . . "

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What Girls Learn

Cook, Karin

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, this story about a single mother with two daughters who moves, marries, and dies of breast cancer handles a variety of difficult issues with sensitivity and spunk. A list of those issues--absent father, new stepfather, a thousand-mile move to a new social environment, first menstruation, sibling rivalry, an uncle with incestuous impulses, family secrets, sexual experimentation, cancer, and death--might make it sound like a catalogue of the trials of contemporary suburban young adulthood, but in fact the point of view of Tilden, the main character, keeps the story grounded in very believable, sometimes amusing, often poignant, recognizable truth about what it is to come into awareness of the hard terms of adult life.

The mother's cancer is narrated largely in terms of Tilden's experience of it: secrecy, eventual disclosure, partial information, losses of intimacy, feelings of betrayal, confusion about caregivers' roles, and in the midst of it all, the ordinary preoccupations of early adolescence. The generous and understanding stepfather and neighbors with limited but ready sympathies lighten some of the novel's darker themes.

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