Showing 491 - 500 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

The Island of the Colorblind

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

In Book I Oliver Sacks describes his visit to Pingelap and Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands (now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia). On Pingelap (population 700) 5-10% of the people are completely colorblind; i.e. they have a rare hereditary condition called achromatopsia in which the retina has no functional cone cells. Rod cells, which normally provide peripheral and night vision, are their only source of vision. While partial colorblindness is common, achromatopsia is normally very rare. Sacks and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian scientist who is himself achromatopic, examined dozens of achromatopes on Pingelap and in a village of Pingelapese people on the larger Pohnpei.

In Book II Sacks takes the reader to Guam where he investigates (with his friend John Steele, a neurologist who lives on the island) the neurological disease called "lytico-bodig." The "lytico" form of this disease is a progressive paralysis similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis, while the "bodig" form resembles parkinsonism. Both appeared in Guam after the Second World Way and now seem to be dying out. However, no one has ever determined their cause.

Sacks tells the story of his visit, while also discussing various hypotheses that have been considered and discarded over forty years of study. The last section of the book describes a trip to Rota, a small island north of Guam, where Sacks visits a forest of cycad trees and discusses his life-long fascination with these primitive plants.

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Ivanov

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Nikolai Ivanov is a young estate-owner, heavily in debt, especially to Zinaida Lebedev, the wife of the head of the County Council. Ivanov used to be energetic, creative, and unconventional, the "star" of the local gentry. He married for love--a Jewish woman (Sarah, now called Anna) whose parents disowned her when she married a gentile--and Anna is totally devoted to him. Yet Ivanov is suffering from profound depression.

It seems to him that all his good ideas (like building a school for the poor) were for naught and he has become a "superfluous man." He spends every evening socializing at the Lebedev estate, even though he knows how this hurts his wife. Doctor Lvov, Anna's physician, is a humorless and terminally sincere young man who has no insight into Ivanov's depression.

One night Anna gets fed up and follows her husband to the Lebedev house, where she discovers Ivanov kissing the Lebedevs' daughter, Sasha, who is hopelessly in love with Ivanov, although he doesn't reciprocate her affection. Some weeks later Anna's illness (tuberculosis) has gotten worse. Lvov condemns Ivanov, various hangers-on while away their time in Ivanov's study, and, to complicate matters further, Sasha shows up unannounced. After Anna dies, Ivanov and Sasha are set to be married, but at the last minute he can't go through with it. At the end of the play he runs offstage and shoots himself dead.

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The Second Coming

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Will Barrett, the protagonist of The Last Gentleman (see this database), returns in this novel, having retired early from a lucrative law practice. A widower, he lives in an exclusive North Carolina suburb where he has become "the world's most accomplished golf amateur."

Suddenly, his golf game turns sour and "hidden memories" pop up. Among these memories is the truth about his father's suicide: when Will was 12, his father killed himself in a "hunting accident," but had also tried to kill Will to "protect" him from an inauthentic existence. While Will is struggling with his own "death in life," he meets Allison, a neurotic 20 year old woman who has escaped from a mental hospital and is living in an abandoned greenhouse on some property that she has inherited.

Other characters include Father Weatherbee, a decrepit old Catholic priest who was once a missionary in Mindanao, and Jack Curl, a charmingly smooth Episcopal priest, who is trying to establish affluent "love communities" in North Carolina. Will decides to challenge God, "I shall go into a desert place and wait for God to give a sign. If no sign is forthcoming, I shall die . . . . " Ultimately, he finds his "sign" in Allison; they choose life, fall in love, and get married.

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The Last Gentleman

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Williston (Will) Barnett, the damaged son of an old Southern family, is the protagonist of this rambling, picaresque novel. While living in New York, Will meets Kitty McVaught, a young Alabama woman whose father owns the world's largest Chevrolet agency. Will, who suffers from bouts of amnesia and fugue states, follows Kitty back to Alabama and meets her family, including her mother, who believes the South lost the Civil War as a result of a Jewish conspiracy; her older brother Sutter, a failed physician and self-proclaimed pornographer; her sister Val, a devoted Roman Catholic who works among the poor black children; and a 16 year old brother Jamie, who is terminally ill.

Will's mission in this novel is to discover why his father committed suicide when Will was 12 years old, and thereby achieve some healing of his own memories, but most of the action in the novel involves various members of the McVaught family, especially Sutter and Val, who represent the warfare between animal desire (Sutter) and angelic spirit (Val) in this fallen world. The novel's climactic scene takes place in Santa Fe, where Jamie undergoes a deathbed conversion. Afterward, Will presumably returns to Alabama to marry Kitty and do something constructive with his life.

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Grief

Williams, C. K. (Charles Kenneth)

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet grieves over his mother's death, "Gone now, after the days of desperate, unconscious gasping, the reflexive staying alive . . . . " He records the details of her dying, the details of his pain. He wonderingly asks himself, "Is this grief?" upon realizing that he is not making a scene, nor crying, nor wishing to follow her in death.

He realizes, though, that his grief is not just for his 80 year old mother who died in bed with make-up on her face, but for his mother-in-law's face and all women's faces and "the faces of all human beings, our own faces telling us so much and no more, / offering pain to all who behold them . . . . " His grief is grief for the earth, the flesh, the body, the mind, "and grief for the moment, its partial beauties, its imperfect affections, all severed, all torn."

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Chekhov. A Biography

Simmons, Ernest

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

A comprehensive and quite readable biography of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) by an eminent scholar of Russian literature. Five aspects of Chekhov’s life (as presented here) stand out as particularly interesting: First, the central importance to Chekhov of his self-image as a physician, even in the latter part of his career when he had given up the regular practice of medicine.

Second, the theme of philanthropy (especially in medical and educational areas) that runs through his entire life. For example, even while he was dying of tuberculosis himself, Chekhov was still actively involved in raising money to build a tuberculosis sanitarium at Yalta for poor writers. Third, the fascinating portrait of a person who was extremely compassionate and emotional, yet very reserved and reluctant to express his feelings to others, even to close friends.

Fourth, his long denial (even to himself, perhaps) that he suffered from tuberculosis, even though the diagnosis must have been medically obvious. For example, he began having episodes of coughing up blood as early as 1887 or 1888. Fifth, Chekhov’s fascinating decision to marry Olga Knipper (1901) at a time when he was already gravely ill and an invalid, after having shown no interest in matrimony (and a generally flippant attitude in his relationships with female friends) throughout his adult life.

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Woyzeck

Buchner, Georg

Last Updated: Jun-19-1997

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Woyzeck is the all-purpose servant of a German Captain. The Captain considers him amoral and stupid, largely because Woyzeck is poor. Woyzeck also makes money by allowing the Doctor to experiment on him. He has eaten nothing but peas in order to prove some unstated scientific premise.

Woyzeck discovers his girlfriend, Marie, with whom he has had a son, having an affair with the drum major. He brings Marie to the side of a pond and slits her throat. After getting drunk, Woyzeck realizes that people are looking at him suspiciously and he returns to the pond and presumably drowns himself.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Several of these poems deal with pregnancy and childbirth. “The Womb Is the Body's Most Powerful Muscle” celebrates a woman's knowledge of her own body just before she gives birth. In “The Birthing Room” Krysl describes the pulse and atmosphere of a midwife-attended birth. “Midwife” is an ecstatic poem about the power and “connection” of midwifery. Other poems in this collection take an ironic, comic view of the human condition (“Feet,” “Skin”), or reflect on issues of human dignity in the health care setting (“Quadriplegic: the Bath,” “Burn Patient”).

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Plums and Ashes

Moolten, David

Last Updated: Jun-08-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

David Moolten's poems demonstrate the medical (and poetic) virtues of simplicity, clarity, skillful observation, and attention to meaningful detail. They reveal and transform the poet's experience--from "a brief Christmas display / Of bells and lights" when he feels the silence of his father's joy "as I pull out the Lionel / Strangled with tinsel . . . " ("Freight"), through a call from the rehabilitation hospital during which his shattered brother "cried like static into the phone" ("'Cuda"), to "The Night" in which the poet stares through the window of memory at his and his wife's younger selves and tries "to whisper in their ears / They don't know where they're going" as they "lean into each other / Like two hands shielding a small flame . . . . " Among the other particularly appealing poems in this collection are "Chemistry Set," Motorcycle Ward (see this database), "Voyeur," "1968," and "Omission."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1981 the author, a well-known 75 year old Swedish poet, suffered a heart attack and lay comatose for two months. He then began a prolonged period during which he gradually recovered all of his faculties. In the early stage of his recovery, Lundkvist experienced a series of strange and intense "waking dreams," which he describes in this memoir. Many were dreams of journeys to real or fantastic places: for example, a trip to a railroad station in Chicago where physicians surgically transformed white people into black people, or a visit to a strange planet where cows produced blue milk. Lundkvist's memories of these dreams are embedded in a series of imaginative meditations on aging, human nature, the meaning of life, and the inexorable passage of time.

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