Showing 41 - 50 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Nemesis

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Aug-15-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Bucky Cantor is a young, athletic, Jewish javelin thrower who is acting as a coach for young boys in the sweltering New Jersey summer of 1944. He is ineligible for war service because of his weak eyes.

His coaching efforts are much appreciated by the children and their parents because a polio outbreak is on the rise, and sports help take their minds off their fears of death and permanent illness. One by one, boys fall ill and disappear. Some die. But the games continue in Bucky’s own private campaign against the epidemic.

No one really knows how polio is contracted and spread.

Bucky falls in love with Marcia Steinberg who urges him to leave the city to avoid exposure to the germs. She works at a summer camp in the Poconos far from the city and uses her influence to have him invited to fill a sudden vacancy when the sports instructor is called up to military service. After agonizing over his decision, Bucky accepts the position—admitting that he is running away from fear as much as he is going to Marcia.  He is amazed that no one seems to blame him.

The camp life is idyllic, and he is reconciled to his choice.  But soon one of the boys at camp shows signs of the dreaded illness, and Bucky believes that he must have brought it with him. Then, Bucky himself falls ill and develops a permanent disability that ends his athletic career.

Marcia rushes to his bedside more than willing to continue as his lover and wife, but he sends her away believing that she should not be saddled with a disabled lover. He thinks he did the right thing.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The Hawaiian lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) has two big dilemmas. His large, extended family is thinking of selling their inherited 25,000 acres to a developer—and he must help the consortium decide what to do for the benefit of all. Worse, his wife Elizabeth is in a coma on life support following a severe injury from water skiing. He is trying to parent their two daughters, aged 10 and 17, but the girls are unruly and sulky. He thinks that they are acting out because of their mother’s absence.

The doctors tell Matt that Elizabeth will never recover. According to her living will, she does not want to be left on a machine; they must pull the plug. Matt confides in the older daughter who then informs him that Elizabeth had been having an affair. Her sullenness is sublimated anger with her mother for—among other things—how Matt had been treated. Other family friends know of the infidelity and identify the lover as Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) a real estate agent living on Kaua’i.

Amazed by his wife’s secret, Matt overcomes his sense of betrayal and resolves to respect her feelings, find the lover and give him a chance to say goodbye. The little family flies to Kaua’i looking for Brian and to deal with the sale of the family estate.  Matt meets Brian’s beautiful wife Julie– who is sympathetic to his situation, not knowing of the connection with her husband. When Matt confronts Brian, he is surprised that Brian has no interest in saying good-bye to Elizabeth. What, for Elizabeth, had been a life-changing relationship, for Brian, was a fling that “just happened” and which he wants to forget. He is terrified that Julie will discover his infidelity and leave him.

Matt contends that “things do not just happen.” Everything happens for a reason. Wondering what his own role had been in Elizabeth’s reasons for taking part in the affair, Matt goes home for her death. But he also decides not to sell the family estate and keep it as a nature preserve over the opposition of many cousins.  Brian never appears, but Julie has learned of his infidelity and she comes to the hospital out of duty and horror. It is not clear if her marriage will survive.

In the final scene, Matt and his daughters are in a little boat off Waikiki where they spread Elizabeth’s ashes.

 

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Silence

Wagner, Jan

Last Updated: Aug-13-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1974, a student befriends Pärssinen, the gardener of his apartment complex in the town of Turku, Finland. Pärssinen invites him to drink and watch pornographic movies from his extensive collection. One night when both are full of alcohol, the gardener stops a girl on a bicycle, rapes and strangles her, and tosses the body in a lake. The drunken student is a baffled witness. The body resurfaces several months later, but the case is never solved. Her name was Pia.

More than thirty years later, in 2007, another girl, Sinikka, goes missing. Her bicycle is found with traces of her blood right beside the memorial shrine to Pia at the place of her murder. The retired cop, Ketola, is convinced that solving this new crime will also solve the old one.

At the same time, far away in Helsinki, Timo Korvensuo and his wife are entertaining friends. He is a successful real estate agent with a lovely, kind wife and two children, a boy and a girl. News of the missing girl greatly disturbs Timo and he leaves home headed to Turku telling his family it is for business. The reader realizes that Timo must be the unnamed student who witnessed the first murder.  

In parallel with the police investigation, Timo’s abject wanderings in Turku seem to be centered on (re-)finding and perhaps outing the original killer. Police discover that Sinikka’s parents are consumed with guilt for the difficulties they have had with their adolescent daughter; they fear she has been snatched, perhaps killed, before they could patch things up.  The father is a suspect.

Timo finds Pärssinen again and learns that he is unaware of the copycat crime. The police also also visit Pärssinen as a person of interest, but nothing comes of it. Timo goes to Pia’s mother, still living in the same home, to express his sorrow for her loss.

SPOILER ALERT!  Primed by Ketola, Pia’s mother contacts the police. They raid Timo’s home in Helsinki and find child pornography on his computer. They know he cannot have committed the recent crime, but they are convinced that he killed Pia. As the noose tightens, Sinikka reappears alive and well from a hiding place in the forest. She staged the second crime as bait to lure the true killer in a plan she had cooked up for Ketola. Timo commits suicide and the police close both cases, but they are wrong.

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Playing God

Colquhoun, Glenn

Last Updated: Feb-21-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

A collection of poetry written by a family doctor  who practices in New Zealand. They are grouped around themes: patients (20 poems), diseases (10 poems), spells (9 poems), a doctor (9 poems), and end with “Playing God,” which is a collection in 10 parts about clinical practice. 

Miracles and wonders are found in the physiological workings of the body. Myths and spells are identified in the rituals of practice guidelines. 

The poet loves medicine even as he realizes some of the unpleasant challenges and distortions it brings to his life and behavior.

 

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a 27 year-old writer is happy in his work and lives with Rachael, a painter, but he has not been feeling well. He goes for tests. The doctor—without looking him in the eye—bluntly tells him that he has spinal cancer and needs chemotherapy. With the support of his good friend, Kyle (Seth Rogan), Adam begins his treatments. Together they shave his head and he bonds with the much older men being treated at the clinic. Rachael promptly takes up with another man and Adam throws her out. He is assigned a 24 year-old psychotherapist, Katherine  (Anna Kendrick) who is out of her depth in dealing with his condition and his fears, but they have an affinity for each other that will eventually “conquer all.”

Adam has an uneasy relationship with his mother (Anjelica Huston), a domineering personality who is coping with her husband’s slide into dementia.  His illness forces him to see more of his parents and he slowly realizes how much she cares for him and wants to help; however, he avoids her and rarely volunteers any information.

In another encounter with the inept doctor, Adam learns that the chemotherapy hasn’t worked and he is referred for surgery. The woman surgeon’s bedside manner is even worse: incredibly, she meets him for the first time only as he is being wheeled into the operating room. 

But the surgery is a success, and the film closes with Adam and Katherine falling into each others arms -- a disappointingly happy Hollywood ending.

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The Art of Racing in the Rain

Stein, Garth

Last Updated: Jan-06-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of race-car driver Denny Swift, as told by his appealing dog, Enzo, is his death-basket memoir. Denny’s tale of woe seems endless. His wife, Eve, dies of a brain tumour and he is in a struggle with her parents for custody of his daughter Zoë. Making matters worse, he is falsely accused of raping a minor by a 15 year-old who has a crush on him.

Enzo would love to intervene. However, he is frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs—but he sees clearly the worth of his master and the need for careful perseverance—like racing in the rain.

 

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An Irish Country Doctor

Taylor, Patrick

Last Updated: Jan-05-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1964, newly minted doctor, Barry Laverty, begins practice as the young assistant of crusty, seasoned, Dr. Fingal O’Reilly, in the small, Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo. At first he thinks his new boss is fierce and unprofessional. But soon, Barry uncovers the sadness in the older doctor’s past and realizes that O’Reilly has excellent, clinical acumen. If he bends the rules, it is usually for the best.

Over the course of a month they face the ordinary struggles of general practice with Barry slowly learning the ropes: appendicitis in a child, a rushed delivery, pneumonia combined with heart failure, hypothyroidism, unwanted pregnancy, and stroke. And of course, the more minor staples of headache, cuts, and scrapes.

Not everything turns out well. Barry misses a diagnosis and cannot stop blaming himself, but his admission of the error to the patient’s wife is an important step in his education. The patients, however, leave the practice.

Social factors such as poverty, discrimination, and corruption of local officials pervade each vignette.

Barry also meets the beautiful Patricia—a survivor of polio—whose desire to pursue a career in civil engineering seems to pose an obstacle until all is happily resolved in the end.

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Poetry

Chang-Dong, Lee; Jung-Hee, Yun

Last Updated: Jan-05-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Mija, a 66 year-old woman, is raising her daughter's grumpy teenaged son and trying to make ends meet with a part-time job as a maid for an elderly, wealthy man who has suffered a stroke.

She finds herself searching for nouns, and after consulting a doctor, is told bluntly that she has early Alzheimer's disease.

Perhaps because of her preoccupation with language, she joins a poetry class and strives to write, listening carefully to the poet-instructor's philosophical advice on vision and creativity. Throughout the film, she carries a little notebook with her and pauses to write her thoughts about flowers, beauty, birds, and apples.

A young girl in the grandson's class has committed suicide by drowning and Mija witnesses the mother's grief. From the girl's diary, the teachers and family learn that she had been repeatedly raped by six boys, one of whom is Mija's grandson.

The fathers of the other boys try to make a monetary settlement with the bereaved mother; they urge Mija too find an extraordinay amount money. In despair, she extorts the money from her employer as a "favour"-but the boy is utterly indifferent to her action, and in the end, is taken by the police anyway. Mija summons her daughter. She leaves a bouquet of flowers and the one poem that she managed to compose for her instructor to find at the last class. The daughter arrives to an empty home and we assume Mija has drowned herself.

 

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Quicksand

Larsen, Nella

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helga Crane is a beautiful young teacher in Naxos, a southern American boarding school for black students. She is half Danish on her mother’s side, half African-American on her father’s side. Her only family is an aunt and uncle in Denmark.

Dr. Anderson, a distinguished black teacher professes love for her, but she feels stifled by him and the vision of their life ahead. She quits her job and flees to New York and the exciting cultural life of Harlem.

She thrives in that environment and men flock to her. There she meets James Vayle whom she likes and the Reverend Pleasant Green whom she does not—but once again, when Vayle proposes permanence, she flees to Copenhagen.

There, she spends an extended visit with her Aunt Katrina and Uncle Poul. At first the Danish couple are startled by her blackness, but they quickly adapt and enjoy the elevated status conveyed by having this intelligent, beautiful black woman in their world. Upon receiving another offer of marriage, Helga grows suspicious of her family’s use of her and flees once again.

She returns to America where she marries the Reverend Pleasant Green, although she doesn’t love him.  As babies come in succession, Helga develops severe post-partum depression. 

 

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The Book of Negroes

Hill, Lawrence

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Aminata Diallo, called Meena, is born in mid-eighteenth-century Africa and leads a happy life with her Muslim parents. Her mother is a midwife and is teaching Meena her skills. But ruthless white men appear, killing her parents and imprisoning her. The eleven year-old girl is forced to march miles and miles to the sea. During the journey she makes friends with Chekura, a slightly older boy who seems to be employed by the white captors, but like Meena, has also been captured. They are kept at a fort, then herded on to ships and taken on an agonizing journey across the ocean.

Meena and Chekura are sold as slaves. They lose sight of each other and live on plantations in privation and squalor never knowing if they will be treated with kindness or cruelty. Meena is raped by an owner. She learns how to read and write English quickly (although her skill must be kept secret), and she is fascinated by maps, constantly plotting to return to Africa.

Meena and Chekura find each other and marry secretly - but soon they are separated. She has a baby girl. Her literary and midwifery skills are her salvation, and eventually she is sold to a Jewish duty inspector. He and his wife treat her well, and she and her child live in comfort, but the revolutionary war disrupts their world. Meena returns home one day to find that the Jewish couple have fled on ship to England, taking her daughter with them..."for her own good."

Meena moves to New York City, taking a room in a hotel and still intent on finding a way back to Africa. She writes the names and ages of the people clamoring to go to Nova Scotia as a reward for serving the British in the Revolutionary War: the original "book of negroes." The settlers arrive with hope and optimism, but they encounter more oppressions. Later she is lured by the attractive plan to build "Freetown" in Sierra Leone; again however, the promised resources never materialize and the fledgling community degenerates into crime and misery. Even Meena's attempt to find her original home is thwarted.

In 1802 London, as a frail elderly woman, the abolitionists treat Meena with reverence and curiosity. They encourage her to write her story, and there she finds her daughter again.

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