Showing 441 - 450 of 523 annotations tagged with the keyword "Ordinary Life"

Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Summary:

American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.

From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.

Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.

Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.

The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.

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Souvenir

Phillips, Jayne Ann

Last Updated: Aug-04-2000
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Kate, a doctoral student, has chosen to move far away from the small town in which she grew up and in which her widowed mother (a school superintendent) and brother (an insurance man) still live. Kate's life is solitary, punctuated by unsatisfactory and transitory sexual relationships with men; she has headaches and wonders if "there were an agent in her body, a secret in her blood making ready to work against her" (p. 180).

While her mother disagrees with Kate's life choices, their long-distance relationship is sisterly, playful, and intimate. Kate sends her mother Valentine's Day cards, "a gesture of compensatory remembrance" since her father's death six years earlier (177). One year Kate forgets to send the card; soon after, her mother is suddenly hospitalized for tests that reveal a brain tumor.

Kate's brother insists that if she wants to come home, she must keep quiet about the likelihood of the tumor's malignance and the risk that the upcoming surgery will result in paralysis. He argues that their mother is terrified and that there is no point in making her more afraid. Kate objects to the concealment of the truth but complies unwillingly with her brother's request.

She gains permission to take her mother for a ten-minute walk outside, just time enough to take a ferris wheel ride. As their car reaches the top of the wheel, Kate is clearly upset. Her mother comforts her, saying, "I know all about it . . . I know what you haven't told me" (196).

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Summary:

Death’s power to erode and silence human speech has catalyzed a rich and varied flood of writing, some of which is collected in this book. Each of its four sections is devoted to one of the ways in which we speak and write in the context of death: eulogies, letters, elegies, and epitaphs. Culled from a chronological range stretching roughly from Roman antiquity to the present, these texts represent the famous, the anonymous, and all manner of people in between: as subjects of praise, mourning, and remembrance; as writers of speeches, letters, and poems about the dead; and as recipients of condolence letters.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1929, a Danish physician identifies a new strain of smallpox that is capable of infecting and killing even those individuals who have previously been vaccinated against the disease. Before this incurable plague reaches them, the citizens of Vaden, a prosperous town renowned for their fanatical love of children, unanimously agree to barricade the city from the rest of the world.

Only once during this time when Vaden has quarantined all of Denmark does the town make an exception. A traveling European circus is allowed into the city because the mayor cannot bring himself to refuse its sick children. Unbeknownst to the villagers, a dwarf clown who is the featured performer of the circus has just died from the virulent strain of smallpox, but not before introducing it to Vaden. A 12 year old member of the circus successfully impersonates the dead clown. One night, the imposter with his wooden flute leads the children out of Vaden through a gate in the wall.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This fine collection of nine stories--the author's first--offers the reader a variety of experiences that are both familiar and foreign. All concern Southeast Asian Indian (often Bengali) protagonists living either in India, or after transplantation, in the United States. All provide rich descriptions of the details of Indian life, and of cultural values and customs. While the domestic routines (for example, Indian food and cooking provide an important backdrop in several stories) may be unfamiliar to American readers, the style and themes of Lahiri's writing are highly accessible, absorbing, and moving.

Most of the stories are written from a perspective that is between cultures. The characters are not traumatized refugees but are negotiating a path in a country (America) that seems to provide opportunities ("A Temporary Matter," "The Third and Final Continent," "Mrs. Sen's," "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"); or they are the Americanized children of such Indian families ("Interpreter of Maladies," "This Blessed House"). Ties to the Asian sub-continent may be strong or weak, primary text or subtext, but they are ever-present. Living between cultures lends an extra layer of complexity to situations and relationships that are difficult in and of themselves.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

A young boy tells us, "My cat Barney died last Friday. I was very sad." Barney's mother suggests he think of ten good things to tell about Barney at his funeral. The story details his feelings and, from his perspective, the way his parents and friend Annie deal with the loss, ritual of burial and questions of afterlife (heaven, Barney's whereabouts now).

After the funeral, and after helping his father in the garden, comes a new and comforting understanding--the tenth good thing is that Barney's body becomes part of the cyclical process of nature. Fertilizing trees, grass and "helping grow flowers," the boy tells his mother as she tucks him into bed, is "a pretty nice job for a cat."

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Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A woman in apron, cap, and long skirts stands at a small table, the long handle of a pot resting on her left arm. She appears to be shelling an egg for, presumably, an invalid. On the table before her is a plate with another egg on it, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher and goblet. The background is dark, and the image of the nurse and the table seem to glow warmly in contrast. The woman is intent on her task and appears unhurried.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

A small boy overhears his parents discussing the memory loss of a ninety-six year old neighbor who lives next door in the old people's home. He tries to discover the meaning of "memory" by asking the other residents who tell him, respectively, it's something warm, something sad, something that makes you laugh, something precious as gold.

Young Wilfrid gathers his own "memories" to bring to Miss Nancy, his favorite neighbor because she, too, has four names. Each of his treasures, a freshly laid egg for warmth, a toy puppet for laughter, his grandfather's war medal for sorrow, and his precious football stimulate warm reminiscences for Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper and smiles and smiles for the two of them.

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Death in the Seine

Greenaway, Peter

Last Updated: Feb-04-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Between April 1795 and September 1801, 306 bodies were pulled from the river Seine in Paris. A register of these deaths, indicating, sex, age, hair colour, wounds (if any) and a description of clothing (if any) was kept by two mortuary clerks, Citizen Bouille and Citizen Daude. If witnesses came forward in the days that followed, the names, occupations of the "silent guests" and the witnesses would be added together with the circumstances of the deaths. In most cases the cause of violent death was unknown, or unrecorded--be it "accident, misadventure, suicide, or murder." Bouille and Daude would not speculate.

This artistic documentary uses a male narrator and an eloquent text to present 23 out of the 306 cases: traveling clerks, hearty horsemen, children, mothers, mistresses, aged widows, and a laundress with her little daughter drowned together. These people had lived through the Revolution, the Terror and the early Consultate and it seems reasonable to wonder if the political circumstances they had experienced were somehow connected to their demise. On the other hand, the occupations--tobacco-pouch maker, carter, delivery clerk--invoke the continuity of daily life in the great city despite the political turmoil.

Each case is presented with the site and details of the discovery of the body, followed by a description of the external anatomy as the camera moves slowly and clinically upward over the naked corpse from the feet to head. The shadowy antics of the crude yet sympathetic bureaucrats Bouille and Daude appear throughout, as they retrieve bodies, wash them, label them, and arrange for the witnesses to view them with enforced respect. But we know less about Bouille and Daude than we do about their "guests."

The narrator reminds us how memory rarely survives more than three generations. Who will remember us, he asks, or these actors who lay very still? And as the register ends, the Revolutionary calendar that governed it ended too. These people who no longer exist could be said to have lived in a time that also no longer exists, because it is no longer measured.

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