Showing 41 - 50 of 1207 Fiction annotations

The Anatomy Lesson

Siegal, Nina

Last Updated: Jun-17-2014
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1632, at the age of only 26, Rembrandt finished a large (85.2 in × 66.7 in) oil painting that was destined to become one of his best known works and certainly one of the linchpins in the nexus between the graphic arts and the medical humanities. "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" depicts the dissection of the flexor tendons of the left arm of a cadaver by the eponymous doctor while an attentive audience of his peers, identifiable members of the medical and anatomical community of early 17th century Amsterdam, looks on. Nina Siegal's novel tells her imagined back story of this richly illustrated anatomy lesson which, once you read her captivating novel, will make you ask yourself, as I did, why no one has thought fit to do so heretofore.

Using multiple first person narrators, Siegal examines the characters (some historical, others wholly fictional) and events leading up to the anatomy lesson and Rembrandt's artistic rendering of it. Inventing a life for Aris Kindt (born Adriaen  Adriaenszoon), the historically real career criminal whose recently judicial hanging provides the body we see in the painting, Siegal provides him with Flora, a lover who is carrying his illegitimate child at the time of his public - and quite raucous - hanging. Growing up in Leiden, in the same neighborhood as Flora and Rembrandt himself, Kindt was the physically and emotionally abused son of a leather worker and, in Siegal's imagination, a petty but persistent thief hanged for his inveterate and irremediable life of crime. As was the custom of the day, his body was legally assigned to an anatomist for public dissection. With a non-linear narrative, organized into brief chapters entitled for body parts, Siegal traces the beginnings of three of the protagonists - Kindt, Flora, and Rembrandt. She constructs  how their lives intersect not only before, during and after the hanging, but also in more philosophical strokes, namely the medical, theological and artistic tapestry on which this image rests. There are several minor characters, like Tulp and his family; Jan Fetchet, the "famulus" responsible for securing and preparing Kindt's body immediately following the hanging; and even René Descartes, who seems to have been in town during this momentous occasion pursuing his own polymathic research, which included anatomy at the time.  Siegal adds a few reports dictated by a fictional modern- day conservator offering her interpretation of many of the details of Rembrandt's masterpiece, details that serve to highlight aspects of Siegal's narrative, such as the possible artistic re-implantation of Kindt's amputated right hand.

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A Little Something

Haddaway, Richard

Last Updated: May-13-2014

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A Little Something is a story of a medical catastrophe for a family: at a baseball game, 10-year-old Justin is struck in the face by a foul ball. He seems OK initially, but he has a loose tooth. His father takes him to a dentist, where, left unattended, he has a drug reaction and loses consciousness. Paramedics take him to a hospital, but he does not wake up. He becomes the still center of the book; three circles form around him.  The closest circle includes the attending neurologist Dr. Goldstein and, of course, his parents. His mother Kath is a pediatric physician; she follows closely the medicine involved and knows well the hospital where Justin is being treated. His father Sam is an introverted financial man; he measures everything in numbers. Their marriage is stressed even before the accident. Kath’s nurse at her clinic, Jonesie, is a steady support. Granny, a Licensed Vocational Nurse, comes to watch over Justin. In a moving scene, she bathes the unconscious boy.

A second circle includes other family and friends, the clientele of Kath’s pediatric clinic, the children, and their parents. These are largely Latino, underserved in Fort Worth, Texas, of 2001. (Kath has chosen a medical specialty that earns less money than other fields—in contrast to her money-grubbing mother, who is satirically portrayed.) Next door to the clinic is a firehouse, where Justin has visited and made friends. The blue-collar firemen are public servants who help make a community work.

A third circle is less defined but contextual for the novel: country folks, like Granny, who are not intellectual but practical. They believe in keeping going no matter what, a folk wisdom of realistic, durable hope.

For three-quarters of the novel there’s suspense about Justin’s recovery. At one brief moment, Sam is sure of a turnaround when he sees (or thinks he sees) a smile on Justin’s face. For nine days Sam and Kath experience hope, anger, exhaustion, expressed rage, confusion, and continuous uncertainty.

Finally there is “the meeting,” a gathering of the doctor, the family, Kath’s faithful clinic nurse Jonesie, and Father Red, a Catholic priest from Justin’s school.  Dr. Goldstein says there is no hope for recovery and gives the medical details of Justin’s brain death, which has both anatomical and legal certainty.

Kath and Sam decide to disconnect Justin from life support and allow organ donation. When Justin must be transferred from the children’s hospital to the neighboring one, Sam carries him in his arms. A surprise ritual is an honor guard of firemen who line the path of the procession.

We read the specifics of disconnecting the vent tube, watching the heart race on the monitor, then the flat line of the still heart. Father Red reads from the Book of Common Prayer. An hour later, a helicopter takes off from the hospital with Justin’s donated heart.

An Epilogue six months later describes a Thanksgiving dinner at the firehouse. Sam and Kath are closer now, and he plans for them a trip to Hawaii. There’s has been, however, no easy “closure,” and the couple combines memories with mourning. 

            

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Up in Smoke

Pennie, Ross

Last Updated: Feb-28-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The third novel in the series of Zol Szabo, who is a public-health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to ten year-old, Max, because his unstable wife, Francine, could not deal with Max’s mild physical disability. His partner in life and work is now Colleen, an attractive woman detective whom he met in the first novel and who looks "like Cameron Diaz in a ponytail” (p. 140).

Teenagers at a private religious school begin to sicken and some die of a mysterious liver ailment. School authorities categorically deny any use of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol—but Szabo’s team quickly discovers that not only do the kids smoke, they prefer a cheaper form of cigarette that is manufactured and sold at cut rates by the local native community.

In the background of this stressful situation, Zol’s mother is dying of cancer, his ex-wife is threatening to visit, and Zol is caught up in a violent break-in at a Toronto museum that resulted in the theft of a precious native artifact.

The team unravels a series of epidemiological clues that point to the interaction of pesticide-tainted tobacco reacting with liver cells to produce the dangerous disease. He must then convince the unscrupulous cigarette manufacturer to stop production before the problem spreads widely. Their methods are unorthodox because they lack support from the bosses who are afraid of public and political opinion. Using clandestine photography they prove that the owner has been lying about his distribution methods.

The investigation helps to solve the older murder of a native woman scientist who had uncovered the problem and been brutally silenced.

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By Blood

Ullman, Ellen

Last Updated: Feb-19-2014
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first-person, nameless narrator is in mid-1970s San Francisco on a "sabbatical" that is more like an exile from his academic post in the east. He takes an office in a downtown building to force himself to leave his dull accommodations. Occasionally he can hear everything that transpires from the space on the other side of the wall, which is the office of psychiatrist, Dr. Schüssler. Normally, the woman doctor runs a white-noise machine to ensure privacy, but one patient — who becomes “my patient” — hates the noise and insists it be turned off.

Adopted in infancy, “my patient” is in a fraught lesbian relationship. Her doctor has been encouraging her to find her birth mother, but she keeps resisting. Finally she embarks on a long exploration that is told through her accounts to the doctor, through conversations repeated and letters read out loud. As an academic scholar, the eavesdropping narrator is able to trace records that could not be found by the patient; he takes the liberty of meddling, falsifying an agency letter and setting her on the correct path. He also realizes that the psychiatrist’s father was a Nazi officer by listening to telephone conversations with her own mentor.

“My patient” learns that her mother was Jewish and escaped death by being in a special facility as a comfort woman. Chameleon-like the mother’s identity changes over and over. In contrast to the nameless patient, her name moves from Maria to Miriam to Michal; she lives in Israel where the patient goes to find her. The biological father’s identity is a mystery—perhaps someone whom Michal loved, perhaps a Nazi officer. The sacrifice of her child to a Catholic adoption agency moves from inexplicable selfishness to desperate selflessness. Surprises continue to the end when "my patient" finds an Israeli sister who has been in contact with the mother but is no less confused over her identity.

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Someone

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-13-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made.  The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace.   From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss.  Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them. 

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Under the Skin

Faber, Michel

Last Updated: Dec-04-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Isserley is an alien whose assignment on earth is to abduct male (preferably muscular and burly) hitchikers for their processing, in a subterranean area under a barn in Scotland where she and her fellow aliens are based, as farmed animals that are castrated, made mute by tongue-amputation and fattened up in pens like calves for their veal. After a few months, they are eventually slaughtered and butchered for meat and then transported back to Isserley's native land, which is portrayed as a dark, arid, unpleasant place where meat is a rare and expensive delicacy.

Vaguely canine in her original form, Isserley has had to undergo mutilating surgery to pass as a human whose day job is to drive on the A9 of Scotland picking up unsuspecting men and then, after sometimes quite interesting conversations, paralyzing them by flicking a switch that activates twin jets that come up through the front passenger seat injecting an immediately acting curare-like drug. Isserley then transports them back to the farm.

In constant physical pain from the surgery and the unnatural upright posture, and always questioning herself, her role on earth, her feminity amongst the otherwise all male alien workforce, Isserley falls in love with the earth's natural world (there are not oceans or lakes on her world), especially Scotland's lochs, rain, cloud and snow. Sheep hold a special place in her heart.

Amlis Vess, the son of the owner of the company that is selling earthmeat at exorbitant prices back home, shows up for an unnannounced site visit and curiosity since he is ideologically opposed to this killing of animals - he has no idea how sentient and intelligent earthlings are and this fact is carefully kept secret from him during his brief visit, which is also marked by his marvelling at earth's natural beauties and what appears to be an emotional or sexual attraction to Isserley.

After some rough handling by one of the hitchhikers who attempts to rape her, her troubling interactions with Amlis Vess, news that the police have taken notice of a missing hitchhiker and are conducting an investigation, and her discovery that there may be a replacement for her in the offing - Isserley decides to strike out on her own. The end of the novel is, although not shocking, not expected.

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The Cure

Barrett, Andrea

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.

Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).

Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.

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Secrecy

Thomson, Rupert

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1701, the wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo is invited to the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. His talent in is portraying the human form in various states of decay – anatomically correct, each figure set in a box recreating scenarios, as chilling memento mori.

Zumbo is well received in Florence and befriends anatomists and physicians at the local hospital Santa Maria Nuova. But he cannot fathom why he has been invited until he meets the Grand Duke himself. Cosimo confesses the misery of his marriage to the much younger Frenchwoman, Marguerite Louise. She has left him, yet he loves her still. He asks Zumbo to fashion a wax woman for him—but the artist must be careful because Florence—under Cosimo’s own pious orders – is becoming increasingly intolerant of sexual deviation of any sort. Spies are everywhere.

Zumbo is given the corpse of a young woman, mysteriously drowned, and makes a cast of her body. Then he finds a way to make the dubious project “acceptable” by concealing a fetus inside her removable but flat belly.

Meanwhile, Zumbo spies a beautiful woman in an apothecary shop – and spends a long time searching for her. Her name is Faustina, and eventually they begin an affair, which is deemed unacceptable. They must flee from a murderous Dominican priest who plans to torture and kill them both.

Without giving too much away, the ending is poignant.

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Open Heart

Yehoshua, A. B.

Last Updated: Nov-30-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Benjamin Rubin is completing his surgical residency in a Tel Aviv hospital when the director of the hospital asks him to accompany him and his wife to India to rescue their daughter who is critically ill.  This invitation distresses him, as he recognizes in it a way of removing him from competition for a position in surgery at the hospital.  He makes the trip, however, and is entranced by Indian culture and mysticism, and, eventually, not by the daughter but by the mother he accompanied.  Back in Tel Aviv, he has a brief affair with the mother, moves into an apartment she owns, leaving his mother's home, and, to allay his obsession with an unavailable woman, marries an independent-minded woman who has also traveled in India and absorbed Buddhist spirituality and Eastern philosophy she discovered there.  Working as an anesthesiologist, Benjy continues in that setting, conflicted about both work and life, unable to connect deeply with any of those whose love he has received or sought.  Eventually his wife leaves with their baby daughter to return to India, where she has found a spiritual home, and Benjy remains in a divided state of mind in a divided country where his own spiritual heritage remains to be plumbed.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Kitty Fane is a beautiful young woman whose mother has raised her to make a suitable match. But Kitty refuses a number of suitors; several years pass and eventually she is reduced to marrying Walter, the colonial bacteriologist in Hong Kong. Walter is a shy and awkward man who loves Kitty passionately, but has no idea how to express it; Kitty is charming and socially adept, but vacuous. In Hong Kong Kitty engages in a yearlong affair with Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial secretary, and a married man whose celebrity potential far eclipses Walter's stolid scientific work. The novel opens when Walter discovers his wife's infidelity.

Kitty believes that Townsend is madly in love with her and prepared to divorce his wife and sacrifice his career to marry her. Walter, who suffers from a broken heart, gives Kitty an ultimatum--either Townsend must promise to divorce his wife and marry her, or Kitty must accompany Walter to a city in the interior where he has volunteered to go to fight the cholera epidemic. Townsend demurs; Kitty is crushed; and the desperately unhappy pair travels to the cholera-ridden city, where they move into the house of the newly-dead missionary.

There, Walter (who is also a medical doctor) sets to work, day and night, to institute public health measures and care for dying patients. Meanwhile, Kitty meets Waddington, the British consul, a cynical alcoholic, who is at heart a good and honest person; and the French nuns, who labor tirelessly to care for orphans and the ill. Impressed by the nuns' selflessness, Kitty begins to devote herself to assisting them and trying to understand their spirituality.

When he learns that Kitty is pregnant, Walter asks if it is his child; Kitty responds, "I don't know." This completes the destruction of Walter's heart, and he soon dies of cholera--presumably as a result of experimenting on himself to find a cure. Kitty learns that the nuns, the soldiers, and all the people of the city consider Walter a saint, who has sacrificed himself for their welfare. However, while Kitty has learned to respect her husband, she could never love him.

Kitty stays only briefly in Hong Kong before returning home to London. Shortly before her arrival, she learns that her mother, whom she believes is responsible for her (Kitty's) shallowness, has died. The novel ends with Kitty vowing to bring up her daughter as a strong and independent woman, and preparing to move with her father to the Bahamas, where he has recently been appointed Chief Justice.

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