Showing 51 - 60 of 75 annotations contributed by Ratzan, Richard M.

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

A poem of five sonnets reflecting on the poet's discovery of an asymmetry in his breasts requiring a mammogram. The resultant diagnosis, gynecomastia, is the source of flippant "nervous humor," as McClatchy describes it in a section on the authors and their poems at the end of this anthology (pg. 265), followed at the end of the poem by a "darker, more serious meditation" (again in the poet's own words). The meditation is not so dark or abrupt that it undermines the poem's integrity.

View full annotation

Homework

Livesey, Margot

Last Updated: Oct-03-2005
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Celia Gilchrist is an editor in London who is in her thirties waiting for the right man. She meets Lewis, clearly (at least clearly to everyone else in the novel and the reader but not, typically, to Celia) a cad and a womanizer. About the time she realizes this, she receives and accepts a job offer in Edinburgh where she promptly meets Stephen, who is separated from his wife, Helen--a Helen as elusive and mysterious as the Helen of Troy, and also as powerful to affect the lives of others, especially men--and their nine-year-old child, Jenny. Despite Celia's valiant effort to get to know and accept Jenny, Celia and Jenny do not get along. From the very first chapter, which is a flash-forward, to the last page, Celia encounters accidents, lies, damage to her personal property, from dresses to sweaters to jewelry--all when Jenny is in the vicinity. The ending is cataclysmic.

View full annotation

Cast of Shadows

Guilfoile, Kevin

Last Updated: Aug-11-2005
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set sometime in the near future, Cast of Shadows has as its protagonist Davis Moore, a successful private practice physician specializing in cloning human babies for infertile couples. Early in the book, Anna Kat, his high school senior daughter, is murdered and raped. (For a while a likely suspect is Mickey the Gerund, a right wing extremist member of the Hands of God with a fascinating grammatical moniker never explained, who shoots cloning physicians, including Dr. Moore, in the abdomen, a short time before his daughter, Anna Kat, is brutally killed. However, Mickey is only a shadow of a suspect and quickly becomes supplanted by another much more likely villain. Mickey goes on to kill, by various methods, dozens of cloning physicians and staff by book's end.)

After a year of unsuccessful detective work, the local police return Anna Kat's belongings, including a plastic vial with the suspected murderer-rapist's semen. In an act never fully explored by Dr. Moore or the author, an otherwise rational and ethical physician surreptitiously uses the suspect's semen to fertilize a married woman patient.

The offspring, a clone of the suspected killer-rapist, is Justin, who becomes a formidable presence in the book. He is very intelligent--at his psychologist's advice, his parents provide him at an early age with advanced reading materials like Plato (hence one of the allusions to shadows, i.e., Plato's cave, in the book's title and referenced directly on page 118 and indirectly on page 208) and other philosophers. By the time he is a senior in high school, Justin has become a dominant player in the affairs of Dr. Moore; Sally Barwick, a private investigator-turned journalist; and the suspected killer-rapist--his origin of the species as it were.

This book has a number of subplots all of which radiate from the initial cloning and the various members of the extended family and professional staff involved in it, some knowingly, most not. There are narrative threads involving the suspected murderer rapist-now-prominent attorney, Sam Coyne; the triangle of Dr. Moore and Jackie, his alcoholic wife, and Joan, his attractive pediatrician associate; Mickey the Gerund's various murderous and obsessional religious activities and reflections; Justin's life in school and involvement with Sally Barwick's investigation of a serial killer called The Wicker Man; and, most especially, the development of Shadow World, a computer game and a virtual replica of the real world--the world as Justin, Sally, Sam Coyne, and Dr. Davis Moore know it.

Since this is a thriller, it would be inappropriate to divulge more of the plot, which is intricate, often a little far-fetched but always engaging, highly readable and more labyrinthine than most medical thrillers.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Journalist Jonathan Eig traces the life of Lou Gehrig, one of the finest first basemen that major league baseball has ever known. Gehrig played as a tremendously reliable and powerful hitter for 17 seasons with the New York Yankees, the only team for which he played, many of them with Babe Ruth; he starred in 7 World Series games, playing on 6 championship teams. Gehrig's consecutive game streak of 2130 games, part of the reason for his nickname Iron Horse, was only broken recently, in 1995, by Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles.

Born June 19, 1903, Gehrig was only 35 years old when he developed the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease of vicious and progressive muscle wasting. He died June 2, 1941, quietly, at home. A relatively unknown disease at the time, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, soon became known as "Lou Gehrig's disease."

View full annotation

The Surgeon

Csáth, Géza

Last Updated: Nov-12-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The unnamed narrator, a physician, notices a surgeon in a "seedy cafe on the edge of town." (73) He learns from the waiter that the shabby man with the "aristocratic demeanor" is "a doctor: Surgeon once" (73). The surgeon hears the narrator call for medical papers and makes his acquaintance. One night soon thereafter the narrator notices that the surgeon, sitting and drinking alone, drains the green syrup of his absinthe "so slowly and pleasurably" (74) that he must be, in fact is, an alcoholic.

The latter approaches the narrator and begins elaborating a complicated theory of time and how it is an internalized, organically controlled, locus in the brain, no different "from an ordinary brain cell" (77). As such, he, the surgeon, proposes to cut it out, imagining, grandiloquently, vast seas of gratitude washing up on his shore as he frees humanity of the "silent madness of mortality" (78). The surgeon ends with a toast to absinthe, "a drug to be taken orally, and which is useful against time, temporarily. . . . We won’t be needing it much longer, since the surgical method’s both radical and excellent. Cheers, my dear colleague!" (78-79)

View full annotation

Medicine

Hsun, Lu

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Old Chuan and his wife, the proprietors of a small tea shop, save their money to buy a folk medicine cure for their son, Young Chuan, who is dying of tuberculosis. The story opens with Old Chuan leaving their shop and going to the home of the person selling the cure, a "roll of steamed bread, from which crimson drops were dripping to the ground." The crimson drops, we soon learn, are blood from a young man recently executed, apparently for revolutionary activities.

The cure does not work and the mother of Young Chuan meets the mother of the executed revolutionary in the cemetery. Here they both behold a mysterious wreath on the revolutionary's grave, a wreath that Lu Hsun, in his introduction to this collection (which he entitled A Call to Arms), describes as one of his "innuendoes" to "those fighters who are galloping on in loneliness, so that they do not lose heart." (p. 5)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Before and after an appendectomy (done for what seem possibly questionable indications) an adolescent boy just feeling the surges of pubescence receives the appropriate attentions of a nurse. During a follow-up visit, for no clear medical reason that I can fathom, he also experiences the exhilarating good luck, for him, of a sperm test, performed by the physician's "young, good-looking nurse."

View full annotation

Pornography

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A classic heterosexual triangle between an inordinately selfish young rake, O'Byrne (who helps his equally disgusting brother run a pornography book shop in London--thus the title of the short story) and two women: Lucy, a nurse, and Pauline, a nursing trainee. (The "Sister" used to refer to Lucy is a British term for nurse and does not mean she is a religious. See my review of John Patrick's The Hasty Heart, in this database).

O'Bryne has "the clap" (gonorrhea), yet cavalierly, even maliciously, continues his sexual relationships with both women, who do not (at the beginning of the story) know of each other's existence. When they learn of his affliction, his infidelity and his uncaring infliction of "the clap" on them, they begin to wreak a horrid revenge on him in a perversion of their surgical and nursing skills.

View full annotation

David

Birney, (Alfred) Earle

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

David tells the apparently fairly simple story of two young friends feeling their youth, their growing friendship, and their love for the mountainous outdoors of rural Canada. The narrator, unnamed until nearly the end of the poem, falls under the charismatic spell of David, the leader and more experienced climber of the two.

After introducing us to David, the narrator describes a particular climb they had been anticipating for months. During the ascent, the narrator slips. David saves him and then slips and falls himself, landing many feet below on a jagged rock that has broken both his fall and his back, leaving him paralyzed. David asks his friend to push him over the cliff citing paralysis as no way for someone like himself to live, i.e., in a wheelchair. The narrator acquiesces.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was one of this country’s premier poets, winning the Bollingen Prize for poetry in January of 1953. As a practicing physician, Williams (hereafter "WCW") incorporated many of his medical experiences into his fiction, less into his poetry. Brian A. Bremen’s book examines WCW, "a medicine man," to use Kenneth Burke’s phrase for Williams (Kenneth Burke was a lifelong friend and publisher of WCW), for whom writing was "always a form of criticism-as-diagnosis." (p.6) For Bremen, a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and former editor of the William Carlos Williams Review, WCW’s poetics "embrace ideas about literature, history, medicine, gender relations, politics that are currently finding expression in the contemporary critical enterprise of ’cultural studies.’ " (p. 7) Bremen’s book explores how WCW developed these ideas between "Spring and All" (1923) and Paterson, Books I-IV (1951).

After quoting a remark that Burke recalls WCW making about the nature of man, Bremen states that the quotation substantiates "the close relationship between Burke’s and Williams’s thinking" and also points out "how naturally Williams’s roles as doctor and poet combine with Burke’s closely related roles of ’Cure’ and ’Pontificate.’ If, along with this coincidence, we remember that the word ’Semiotic’ comes from the Greek meaning ’concerned with the interpretation of symptoms’ and was used by d’Alembert in his ’Tree of Knowledge’ to describe that branch of medicine concerned with diagnosis, we can begin to see how Williams’s own concern with history, culture, and the word becomes the way in which he can extend his diagnostics beyond the individual to embrace both the language and the community, providing both with cure and consolation." (p. 7)

Bremen develops his argument in four chapters: Chapter 1: "Finding the Poetry Hidden in the Prose," in which Bremen lays the groundwork for his discussion of Williams’s views on poetry and prose and introduces key figures in Williams’s thinking and/or Bremen’s analysis, e.g., Kenneth Burke, Heinz Kohut, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; Chapter 2: "The Language of Flowers," in which the author uses the psychology of Jessica Benjamin and the botany of Erasmus Darwin to demonstrate how WCW’s poetry eventually shares in a "more feminine, ’mother-based’ psychology that privileges the "narcissistic" over the "oedipal" (p. 46) while his "more modern language of flowers moves beyond these simple associations to act as ’representative anecdotes’ that embody a complex notion of ’empathy’ and ’identification,’ one that both empowers and even attempts to ’cure’ the reader." (p. 45).

Chapter 3: "Modern Medicine," is of especial interest to the readers of this bibliography, and a chapter heavily dependent on the relationship between Burke and Williams and the critical evaluation of the latter by the former. This chapter argues that "it is precisely Williams’s role as a doctor and its symbiotic--not merely complementary--relationship to his role of poet that provides the clearest model of Williams’s aspirations for his writing. Specifically it is the act of diagnosis that is at the core of both Williams’s medicine and his poetry." (p. 85).

In chapter 4, Attitudes toward History, Bremen offers a critical reading of WCW’s In the American Grain, an American history text as WCW felt history should be written and understood--a thesis Bremen successfully compares to WCW’s analogous views about poetry and prose. Chapter 5, The Radiant Gist, a chapter devoted primarily to Paterson, Books I-IV, serves as well as a coda to the book.

View full annotation