Showing 41 - 50 of 142 annotations contributed by Miksanek, Tony

The Wizard of West Orange

Millhauser, Steven

Last Updated: Feb-23-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The haptograph - an experimental device that mimicks ordinary feelings on the skin and stimulates previously unknown tactile sensations - sits in a locked room in the basement of a renowned scientific institution. It is 1889, and the reasearch facility is headed by the Wizard. He is a brilliant inventor who is cognizant of the importance of patents and profits. Multiple projects are ongoing, and the Wizard supervises all of them. One of his aims is to mechanically replicate each of the human senses.

The Wizard has many assistants. Kistenmacher, an electrical experimenter, is one of the best. His pet project is the haptograph. The machine consists of a body suit (covered by a network of wires, brass caps, and miniature electromagnets), battery, and unit containing replaceable cylinders. Two test subjects are enlisted. The research librarian (who tells the story in the form of diary entries) is a willing volunteer. Earnshaw, a stockroom clerk, is an unwilling participant.

Inside the suit, the librarian is impressed by a variety of familiar feelings of touch. When strange sensations - a total body caress, regeneration, an out-of-body event, and a sense of being suspended in air - are provoked, a new world is revealed to him. He experiences bliss. With ten times more funding and three additional researchers assigned to the venture, the haptograph could be commercially available in three years.

Dreams are smashed when Earnshaw deliberately wrecks the apparatus. The Wizard terminates the project and reassigns Kistenmacher to a more menial task. The librarian ponders the Wizard's motives in halting the development of the haptograph. Perhaps the gadget is too dangerous and even heretical. Possibly the public is not ready for it. Maybe the Wizard figures he cannot turn a profit from it.

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Federigo's Falcon

Boccaccio, Giovanni

Last Updated: Oct-12-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Squandering his wealth in an attempt to gain the affection of a beautiful woman, Federigo degli Alberighi is left with only a small farm and a magnificent falcon. Federigo loves Monna Giovanna, a young woman of nobility who is already married and has a son. After her wealthy husband dies, Monna and her son travel to their country estate near the farm where Federigo lives. The boy becomes friends with him and covets the prized falcon.

Soon the boy is sick. He has one request: "Mother, if you can arrange for me to have Federigo's falcon, I think I would get well quickly." (p. 427) Monna is well aware of Federigo's love for her, but she also realizes how attached the man is to the falcon. Monna makes an unannounced visit to Federigo's farm. Before she declares the purpose of her call, he decides to honor Monna with a meal.

Unfortunately, Federigo has nothing to serve her. He catches a glimpse of his falcon on its perch. He breaks its neck and has it roasted on a spit. Monna eats the bird unaware that it is the animal she has come to request for her son. After dining, she asks Federigo for his falcon. All he can do is weep. He then reveals that he sacrificed the creature to provide a meal worthy of Monna. A few days later, her son dies. After a period of sorrow and resentment, she marries Federigo.

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The Violinist

Zivkovic, Zoran

Last Updated: Jun-11-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A Princeton professor has less than one night to live. His physician visits him in the hospital late in the evening. Dr. Dean is uncomfortable interacting with the dying man. He feigns optimism about the clinical situation and offers false hope but avoids eye contact with the professor and urgently exits the room. A compassionate nurse, Mrs. Roszel, is on duty. Before bedtime, she gves the professor a blue pill that dampens the constant pain in his stomach and also provides a pleasant sensation of weightlessness.

Out of nowhere, he hears a beautiful melody played on a violin. It is barely audible and imperceptible to the nurse. The professor has been a violinist since his youth, and the music triggers a flashback. Sixty years earlier, as a 15-year-old boy, he visited a small town in Italy. The silence of the village was punctured by heavenly violin music. Time slowed and then stopped. Light surrounded and permeated him before giving way to absolute darkness. Was it enlightenment or heatstroke? He awoke and saw a priest hovering over him.

Like that day long ago, the violin music now playing in his hospital room is still a revelation. The harmony reveals the mystery of the universe - the connection between time and space and light. Suddenly it is imperative that the professor shares this new knowledge before he dies. Calling fo Nurse Roszel, he attempts to impart to her what he has just discovered. She is baffled by the language but listens intently anyway.

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Vegetative States

Caspers, Nona

Last Updated: Mar-05-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

An already depressed second year medical student, Deborah, finds herself even more confused about the meaning of life after her aunt sustains a head injury and is in critical condition. Auntie Jenny’s convertible car collides with a utility pole and the impact ejects the woman (who was not wearing a seatbelt) onto the concrete road where she smacks her head. Five days later, Jenny remains in a vegetative state and connected to a ventilator. Deborah’s mother and Auntie Sal keep vigil over their unresponsive younger sister.

Deborah has been slacking – missing classes, sleeping a lot, and uninterested in most activities she formerly enjoyed. Previously she has suffered from insomnia and has fifteen barbiturate sleeping pills remaining. She questions the medical librarian as to how the drug works and the physiologic effects of an overdose. In the seventh grade, Deborah was hospitalized and out of school for one month with unexplained abdominal pain. In retrospect, her mother now admits that Deborah was likely suffering from depression as a child but no diagnosis was made and no treatment provided.

Jenny’s medical status remains unchanged. Deborah’s mother gives her an ultimatum: “You’ve got to make up your mind. The living or the dead” [p 119]. Deborah envies Jenny. No more worries about finding answers to important questions. Survival itself seems to be out of her control. Jenny’s fate rests in the hands of her close relatives who confer with the doctor about whether to continue artificial life support or “pull the plug.”

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The Lives of Rocks

Bass, Rick

Last Updated: Jan-16-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Although doctors have told her that things will get better, Jyl’s odds of surviving cancer are only five percent. She lives alone in a mountain cabin and receives cancer treatments at the hospital in town. She sleeps much of the day. “Her intestines had been scalded, cauterized as if by volcanic flow” [p 67], and Jyl continues to experience problem with digestion. She feels fatigued and is easily short of breath.

Her closest neighbors are the Workman’s, a Christian fundamentalist family of seven. They live miles away in a mountain valley near the creek. Without telephone, electricity, or indoor plumbing, they live off the land and toil day and night. Jyl starts carving small boats toting messages to send down the creek for the Workman children to find. Soon 15-year-old Stephan and 7-year-old Shayna visit Jyl. The two children bring her food that the Workman’s have hunted and gathered. They cut and stack firewood for the recluse. Jyl teaches them about geology and gives them small gemstones that her father had collected. The children’s visits revitalize the ill woman.

When Stephan and Shayna do not return to see her, Jyl is overcome by loneliness. She acknowledges that being alone is far worse than any aspect of her disease and treatment. Jyl makes the difficult trek to the Workman’s property to call on the children but finds that the place is deserted. Nothing remains in their boarded-up cabin except a stack of the small boats that she had crafted. Jyl sits outside their cabin and cries. The falling snow and silence envelop everything.          

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Get a Life

Gordimer, Nadine

Last Updated: Jan-02-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Untouchable. Paul Bannerman considers himself a modern day leper. Diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid at the age of 35, the white ecologist in South Africa undergoes surgery to remove the malignant thyroid gland. Four week later, he is treated with radioactive iodine to obliterate any residual cancerous cells. Paul will remain radioactive for 16 days and poses a risk to anyone in contact with him. He must be quarantined. His parents, Adrian and Lyndsay, offer to care for him in their home so that Paul will not expose his wife, Berenice (Benni), and 3-year-old son, Nickie to potentially harmful radioactivity. While at his parent’s house, Paul is isolated. Nothing of Paul’s is allowed to mingle with that of others. He spends considerable time in the garden reflecting on his life.

As Paul recovers, his parent’s marriage unravels. His mother has had a previous affair. Now his father has a fling of his own (with the tour guide) during a trip to Mexico. His dad never returns home and dies of heart failure in Norway. Paul’s mother adopts an HIV-positive 3-year-old black girl.

Benni wants to have another child, but Paul is worried. Are his radioactive sperm still capable of fertilization, and if so, will the child be somehow deformed or mutilated? Eventually conception occurs, and the baby is healthy. Paul’s most recent scan shows no signs of recurrent cancer. On the professional front, Paul gets additional good news. The environmental and conservation organization he works for has been successful in opposing and temporarily halting a mining project in the sand dunes and the development of a pebble-bed nuclear reactor. Lately, most things associated with Paul are starting to glow.        

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Turning Back the Sun

Thubron, Colin

Last Updated: Dec-11-2006
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

An insidious plague infests an isolated town in a land that suggests a location like Australia. Although the affliction is not fatal, the enigmatic epidemic is characterized by a discoloration of the skin, generalized malaise, and occasionally aching eyeballs. Its spread seems somehow linked to the lack of rain and the group of native "savages" who inhabit the harsh land outside the town.

Prejudice and paranoia are clearly greater threats to the townspeople than the relatively benign plague that has infiltrated the city. Rayner is a sympathetic and lonely doctor who finds himself caught between the residents of the town and the savages. When both he and his girlfriend, Zoë, develop the pathognomonic pigmentation of the plague, their lives acquire deeper meaning.

The novel ends with an army of soldiers originally intent on exterminating the savages instead withdrawing after the troops witness a mystical native ceremony. Rain clouds overhead are poised to unleash a deluge.

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Transplanted Man

Nigam, Sanjay

Last Updated: Dec-11-2006
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Sunit "Sonny" Seth is a gifted but troubled (emotionally and spiritually) third year resident who works at a New York hospital that treats and employs many immigrants from India. The sleep-walking Sonny is assigned to care for a prominent Indian politician known as the Transplanted Man, a patient who has already received seven organ transplants and is currently in renal failure.

Sonny mysteriously rescues the Transplanted Man from the brink of death following a kidney transplant but later learns his patient died from a cardiac arrest. Although Sonny is no stranger to personal loss and longing, the death of this special patient serves as a catalyst. He breaks up with his girlfriend, quits his residency, and dreams of relocating to Trinidad. Meanwhile, nearly everyone else Sonny knows seems to be struggling with their role and place in the world as well.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A stray dog bites the left ankle of 12-year-old Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles. She and her peculiar parents live in a country near the Caribbean Sea during colonial times. Her father belongs to the class of decaying nobility. He is a weak man with poor judgment. Her scheming mother is a nymphomaniac who abuses cacao tablets and fermented honey. Sierva Maria is more or less raised by the family's slaves whose culture she assimilates. The youngster has luxuriant copper-colored hair and a penchant for lying--"she wouldn't tell the truth even by mistake" according to her mother. (p. 16)

Before long, the dog dies of rabies. When Sierva Maria begins exhibiting bizarre behavior, no one is quite sure of the cause even though everyone seems to have his or her own theory. Is the girl displaying signs of rabies? Is she possessed by a demon? The physician Abrenuncio doubts either diagnosis. The powerful Bishop believes the girl may require an exorcism. Perhaps Sierva Maria is simply eccentric or maybe even crazy. Ninety-three days after being bitten by the dog, she is locked in a cell in the Convent of Santa Clara.

The Bishop appoints his protégé, 36-year-old Father Cayetano Delaura, to investigate the matter. The priest is immediately infatuated with the girl. When the Bishop learns of Cayetano Delaura's love for Sierva Maria and his unacceptable actions, the priest is disciplined and then relegated to caring for lepers at the hospital. The Bishop next takes matters into his own hands by performing the rite of exorcism on Sierva Maria. After five sessions, she is found in bed "dead of love." (p. 147)

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Billy Sanchez and Nena Daconte, children of two wealthy Colombian families, fly to Europe to celebrate their honeymoon. Although married only three days, Nena is already two months pregnant. After she scrapes her ring finger on a rose thorn, the nearly imperceptible cut starts bleeding profusely. Nena is admitted to the intensive care unit of a Paris hospital. Visitation is permitted only one day a week so Billy must wait six days before he can see his wife again. He spends most of his time alone in a nearby hotel.

Billy tries to visit Nena sooner but is thrown out of the hospital by a security guard. Billy’s attempt to enlist the aid of the foreign embassy is equally unsuccessful. When Tuesday’s visiting hours finally arrive, Billy cannot locate his wife. He spots the physician who first evaluated Nena. The doctor regretfully announces that Nena bled to death sixty hours after hospital admission. No one could find Billy to apprise him of the situation so Nena’s parents have already arranged the funeral and transported the body home for burial. Billy exits the hospital with thoughts of violence and revenge for his calamity.

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