Showing 371 - 380 of 571 annotations in the genre "Novel"

To Brooklyn with Love

Green, Gerald

Last Updated: Jun-02-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a story of a day in the life of 12-year-old Albert Abrams in Brownsville, Brooklyn, during the Depression summer of 1934. Albert’s father is an irascible middle-aged general practitioner whose practice is getting smaller and smaller. Most of his patients can’t pay; and many have left Dr. Abrams to go to younger doctors, or to specialists. Albert’s mother is a refined literary-type lady who never complains about their life in the deteriorating neighborhood, even though all of their middle-class friends have moved elsewhere.

Albert is a brilliant young man ("the highest IQ in the school"), but his greatest desire is to be "one of the boys." He is small, skinny, and poor at sports. The other kids make fun of him because of his "rich" father. The novel describes a long day of verbal and physical harassment; its highlights are a critical punchball game between the white kids, mostly Jewish, and black kids of Longview Avenue, and a fistfight in which Albert actually "beats" one of his perennial nemeses. In the evening there is a fire in which Yussel Melnick, an old Talmudic scholar, is burned to death.

Peeking out from behind his son’s story is the image of Dr. Abrams, a man who once was the star of his medical school class, but whose career long ago failed to "take off" because of his bluntness, bad-temper, and general difficulty getting along with other professionals. He is portrayed as a man truly committed to his patients, but also prone to yelling at them and hounding them for payment. As the day progresses, it becomes evident that Dr. Abrams has been losing his grip; he has episodes of confusion and appears to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In the end, stimulated by love for his son, he rouses himself from suicidal ruminations.

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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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Summer in Baden-Baden

Tsypkin, Leonid

Last Updated: Jan-31-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel the narrator travels by train from the present into the past and back again. The narrator boards a train in Soviet Moscow; travels to Leningrad in a compartment with some not too friendly people; stays overnight in a relative's run-down, crowded apartment; and rambles through the streets of Leningrad, stopping to visit Dostoyevsky's last place of residence, which is now a museum.

However, this framing story occupies very little of the book. During the train ride, the narrator re-imagines a much earlier trip in April 1867, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife, Anna Grigoryevna, travel by train to Baden-Baden in Germany. They will remain abroad for four years, as Dostoyevsky indulges in his passion (and later obsession) for gambling.

In Baden-Baden he loses all their money; he pawns their belongings and loses; he begs and borrows money from friends and publishers, and loses. Each time he loses, he comes home to their rented apartment and throws himself at Anna's feet. He protests his love, berates himself, and promises to do better in the future; and Anna forgives him.

In this dream-like story, repentance and forgiveness, memory and desire, hope and despair revolve like electrons around Dostoevsky's addiction to gambling. Fyodor and Anna recall earlier events in their lives; for example, Anna remembers herself as a hesitant young secretary arriving for the first time to take dictation from the famous man; and Fyodor, the former convict, Slavophile author of Crime and Punishment, remembers being scornfully dismissed by the smooth and sophisticated Turgenev.

Within the 1867 framework, the story seems to be stuck, unable to move forward, although we know from our late 20th century perspective--as Tsypkin recalls (and invents) the events while on his train trip to Leningrad--they are part of a larger story which moves inexorably forward through time and ends at the Dostoevsky house in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), with the moving scene of Fyodor's last days. And the two stories converge as Tsypkin visits the Dostoevsky museum where those last days took place.

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Life Support

Gerritsen, Tess

Last Updated: Jan-13-2003
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set in contemporary Boston, this medical thriller not only gets the reader's blood moving, but also raises some important ethical questions: How do corporate interests influence the judgment and character of physician researchers? To what length should older persons go to slow down the aging process? How does one's lifework of health care fit in with obligations to one's family?

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White Noise

DeLillo, Don

Last Updated: Dec-04-2002
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A dark comedy about an upper-middle class blended family living the technology overloaded, mall-mad contemporary American life in a small midwestern town until catastrophe strikes. Jack Gladney teaches Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. He is married to his fourth wife Babette, who reads tabloids to the blind and teaches posture classes to senior citizens. Together, they have four children, and a quirky extended family.

Interspersed in the noisy, chaotic family relationships is the central questions that obsesses Jack and Babette: who will die first? Death is everywhere in this story--on TV, radio, at the mall, in Hitler studies, and at home. Then an industrial accident releases an "airborne toxic event"--a lethal cloud of Nyodene D. to which Jack is exposed.

Absurd, witty, and almost plausible, the catastrophe answers his question about who will die first, but tells him nothing about death itself. What is the meaning of death, and, by implication, life? In the final section, dying Jack goes to hospital and meets nun Sister Hermann Marie and questions her about her faith. She explains that her piety is only a pretence: . . . "we are here to embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things the world would collapse." (p. 318)

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The Case of Dr. Sachs

Winckler, Martin

Last Updated: Nov-27-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At the heart of this novel is a simple love story. Dr. Bruno Sachs, a slight, stooped, and somewhat unkempt general practitioner in a French village is dedicated to his work and loved by his patients. Sachs is a solitary, self-effacing man who takes his Hippocratic duties seriously and is especially sensitive to the needs of his patients.

In addition to his private practice, Sachs works part-time at an abortion clinic, where he performs an abortion on a distraught young woman named Pauline Kasser. Soon the doctor and his patient fall in love. She moves in with him and becomes pregnant. An editor by profession, Pauline also encourages and assists Dr. Sachs in completing the book he is writing.

The story has many additional layers and dimensions. The reader views Sachs through the eyes of multiple narrators--his patients, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, all of whom write in the first person and present Bruno Sachs as "you" or "he." Thus, the reader gradually builds up a "connection" (empathy) with Sachs by synthesizing multiple glimpses of his behavior and facets of his character. At the same time, Sachs is trying to find his own voice, his own connection, by becoming a writer. At first he jots down random thoughts, then he keeps a notebook, and eventually he produces a complete manuscript.

The book has innovative structural elements that introduce other layers of meaning. For example, the 112 short chapters are organized into seven sections, corresponding with the components of a complete clinical case history: presentation (as in "chief complaint"), history, clinical examination, further investigations, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Similarly, the narratives delve progressively into Sachs' "illness" and follow the "patient" through his course of "treatment."

Another structural element is the cycle of fertility and gestation. The story takes place from September through June, precisely 40 weeks, a pregnancy of nine months, during which Sachs is re-born.

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The Dark Ship

MacLeod, Anne

Last Updated: Nov-11-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Late in 1918, the "Iolaire," a Royal Navy yacht carrying several hundred soldiers home to the Scottish islands of Lewis and Harris, sank in a storm off Stornoway Harbor. Over 240 were drowned, a crushing blow to an island community that had already lost 800 men in the Great War. The "Iolaire" tragedy served as the stimulus for this fictional account of friendship and love in the Hebrides islands during the War of 1914-1918.

At the book's center are three characters who form an emotional and spiritual triangle: Iain, a young poet who survives the European battlefields only to die by drowning in the "Iolaire" on his way home; the beautiful and vivacious Mairi, pregnant with Iain's child, but in reality in love with Callum; and Callum, a small town newspaperman whose disability keeps him out of the army, and who falls head-over-heels in love with Mairi.

Mairi leaves the island and travels to England to have her baby, planting the seeds of a future that we learn about in stages as The Dark Ship moves back and forth in time from 1916 to 1939 to 1996, and the fates of the characters are gradually revealed. In particular, we learn that after his death Iain Murray became world renowned as a soldier poet. Iain, whose friends never knew that he was a writer, left at his death a manuscript of poems, which his friend Callum Morrison arranged to have published in 1919. On the basis of that book, in MacLeod's fictional world Murray has come to rival such great first world war poets as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. (Murray's famous collection, called "A Private View," is appended to the novel.)

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Unless

Shields, Carol

Last Updated: Oct-31-2002
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Reta Winters, a 44-year-old translator and writer, faces a crisis in her otherwise ordinary and loving family life when her oldest daughter Norah suddenly and without explanation decides to live on the streets of Toronto, with a sign around her neck that reads GOODNESS. The novel, written in Reta's voice, is the story of her and her family's efforts to cope and make sense of this event. But it is also the story of the everydayness of her life and her feminist ruminations on the writing process, motherhood, friendship, and marriage.

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The Anatomist

Andahazi, Federico

Last Updated: Oct-21-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This historical novel is set in 16th century Venice, where the great anatomist and physician Mateo Colombo has just been charged with heresy and placed under house arrest. The book proceeds in a series of short frames or fragments, presenting Colombo’s story from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from the perspective of Mona Sofia, the most prestigious whore in Venice, to that of Leonardino, the crow who waits each morning to scavenge an eyeball or piece of flesh from one of the anatomist’s cadavers.

What is Colombo’s heresy? True, he has consistently violated the Papal Bull of Pope Boniface VIII that forbid obtaining cadavers for dissection, but his scholarly eminence and friendship with Pope Paul III have protected him from recrimination. His heresy is far worse than simply ignoring a Papal Bull; in fact, Mateo Colombo has discovered a dangerous new anatomical structure, the clitoris!

Mateo was called to the bedside of an unconscious holy woman named Inés de Torremolinos. In the process of examining her, the physician was amazed to discover "between his patient’s legs a perfectly formed, erect and diminutive penis." (p. 105) He took hold of the strange organ and began massaging it. As he did so, there was an amazing response in his patient: "(Her) breathing became hoarser and then broke into a loud panting . . . Her lifeless features changed into a lascivious grimace . . . " (p. 107) Subsequent research undertaken with Mona Sofia, the resplendent whore, as well as with cadavers, confirmed the significance of Colombo’s discovery.

At his hearing before the High Tribunal, Colombo explains his findings, which are far too complex and subtle to summarize (pp. 138-165). The finding of greatest interest, however, is that "there is no reason to believe that there exists in women such a thing as a soul." (p. 151) In fact, Colombo contends he has proven that the "amor veneris" or clitoris performs in women "similar functions to those of the soul in men, " although its nature "is utterly different since it depends entirely on the body." (p. 153)

You’ll have to read the book to discover what the verdict of the High Tribunal of the Holy Office was and Mateo Colombo’s fate.

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Sense and Sensibility

Austen, Jane

Last Updated: Oct-11-2002
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood suffer similar reverses in appearing to lose the affection of their chosen suitors. But whereas Marianne indulges her exorbitant sensibility in her relationship with, and loss of, her suitor Willoughby, Elinor's quiet good sense enables her to bear up when it seems her suitor, Edward Ferrars, will marry another woman. Austen rewards Elinor with Edward's hand, while Marianne must be content to learn to love a steadier husband, Colonel Brandon.

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