Showing 51 - 60 of 1213 Fiction annotations

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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A Sunburned Prayer

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-10-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eloy’s grandmother—his abuela—is dying of cancer.  She has been his faithful companion, teacher and refuge in a home where his parents often fight and his older brother seems to have lost interest in him.  He believes the only thing that will save her now is for him to make the annual pilgrimage on foot to the chapel at Chimayo, 17 miles from their New Mexico home, but his parents, both of who work full time, can’t go with him and won’t hear of his going alone.  Desperate for a miracle, and believing she can be saved by the blessed soil distributed at the chapel where many seem to have experienced miracles of healing, he sets out in secret early in the morning.  On the way a friendly dog begins to follow him and, despite Eloy’s efforts to get rid of him, travels the entire 17 miles with him, sharing the water Eloy reluctantly offers him from the canteen that once belonged to his grandfather.  Much of the story follows Eloy’s thoughts as he travels, and the small difficulties and surprises along the way.  As he finally sees the chapel in the distance, he hears his brother driving by slowly in his low-rider with tinted windows.  Angry at the brother who has given him no support so far and seems to be mocking him, Eloy flips him the finger.  Later, as he stands in line for the sacred soil, his brother enters the chapel with their abuela on his arm.  She explains to Eloy that she is indeed going to die, and that God has other ways of answering prayers.  She sees that Eloy has been sent a companion, and encourages him to bring the dog, whom he has now named, home with him.  His parents, who have steadily refused to let him have a dog, accept him, and Eloy comes to new terms with his grandmother’s approaching death.

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Dead Birds Singing

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-07-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Matt leaves a swim meet, happy with his performance, to drive home on a snowy road with his mother and sister.  On the way their car is hit by a drunk driver who swerves out of his lane.  His mother is killed instantly, his sister badly injured.  When he has received treatment in the hospital for an injured shoulder, his best friend’s family comes to pick him up.  He isn’t allowed to see his sister for days, and when he finally does, she looks lifeless and unfamiliar, tubed up in the ICU.  At home with his friend Jamie, he remembers a time when he and his sister rescued a robin, only to see it die.  The story traces the days and weeks following Matt’s loss—his mother’s funeral, his friend’s family’s decision to adopt him, and eventually his sister’s death.  Despite his struggle with grief, anger, and bewilderment, Matt also has times of hope and pleasure in his new relationship to a family he already loved.  Readjusting to school is one of the many challenges he faces.  When he does return to school, he finds himself and his perspective changed, and realizes loss has grown him up in unexpected ways.

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Counting the Days

Donoghue, Emma

Last Updated: Sep-30-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1849, Jane Johnson is on a ship headed for Quebec City with her two children. She has had a relatively uneventful crossing – only one old man died and a child was stillborn. She cannot wait to be reunited with her husband Henry. Having left a year earlier, he is waiting for her eagerly. They both now think that they should not have separated. They each clutch the handful of barely literate letters. She has sternly told him that he must be at the ship to greet them. Fully intending to be there, he suddenly falls ill with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea and is dragged to a hospital. It is cholera and he realizes that he will die without seeing his little family again. As the boat docks, she thinks she sees him in the crowd.

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