Showing 511 - 520 of 3276 annotations

The Parabolist

Ruddock, Nicholas

Last Updated: Sep-01-2010
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jasper Glass and his brother Jonathan are medical students in Toronto, circa 1975. Their father is a repressed, language professor endlessly writing a never-to-be published book on French idioms.  Jasper is having an affair with a married classmate, and he lusts after his dissection partner, Valerie. But Valerie isn’t interested.

In its wisdom, the medical faculty has decided that electives in the humanities must be taken to broaden the educational experience. Jasper and his friends opt for literature. When the graduate student assigned to the teaching task dissolves in angst over how to communicate with savage medical students, the young, Mexican poet, Roberto Moreno, becomes their instructor. The students love Roberto, and through him they learn to love poetry too. Valerie especially loves Roberto. Jasper learns to deal with it.

Over the course of the year, the friends have many adventures. Jasper rescues a young woman from assault, and she, in turn, defends him from a wrongful accusation. Jonathan loses his way and fails miserably. They meet a sinister psychiatry resident who abuses his position with patients, colleagues, and students. Only slowly do they realize the full potential of his dangerous mind. They deal with that too. 

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Garland-Thomson, an important figure in disability studies scholarship and activism, analyzes the social phenomenon of staring, particularly staring at people with distinctive bodies. After exploring why we stare and what staring is, i.e., "a physical response...a cultural history...a social relationship...[and] knowledge-gathering," the book analyzes the dynamics of staring, including the learned prohibition against staring and the dynamic power relationship between starers and the objects of their stares, whom Garland-Thomson terms "starees."

She illustrates and analyzes four key "scenes of staring": staring at faces, hands, breasts, and bodies.  The book proposes a new "ethics of looking" in which starees offer starers a collaborative relationship that produces "[s]taring as beholding...a way to bring visual presence to another person, to see them as they need to be seen" (194). Garland-Thomson positions her argument in relation to key works of cultural criticism and sociology including Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others (see annotation), Erving Goffman's Stigma, Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, and the ideas of historian Michel Foucault. Her evidence includes  auto/biographical narratives of scenes of staring, summaries of key historical contexts, examples from visual art (photography, painting, film, and cartoon), and literature, and auto/biographical narratives.

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Doctor Pascal

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Aug-09-2010

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Doctor Pascal practiced medicine for twelve years. He now lives off his investments and has devoted his life to research on heredity. He has a giant armoire filled with his findings, including files on each of his family members. His mother, Madame Rougon, worries about her son. She had expected him to become a famous doctor. Instead, he accumulates possibly scandalous files about his family.

Madama Rougon tries to enlist Clotilde, Doctor Pascal’s niece, into her cause. Clotilde lives with her uncle and is loyal to him, but she sometimes fears that her uncle is tampering with God’s plans. One day, Clotilde gives in to Madame Rougon’s pleadings and gives her the key to the armoire. Dr. Pascal surprises them rifling through his work. He feels as if his family has betrayed him.

Clotilde repents, but when a Capuchin preacher comes to town, she again changes her mind and tries once more to destroy the files. Pascal once again catches her and to regain her trust tells her all about his project. She is half-convinced and promises to think it over.

She is also considering a marriage proposal from Dr. Ramond, whom she consults when Pascal falls ill. Pascal is afraid he is going mad, but he recovers, having received a serum Ramond invented. At this point, Pascal realizes he is in love with Clotilde, but so as not to interfere in her young life, he presses her to marry Ramond. She admits she can’t for she loves Pascal.

They become lovers, but Clotilde is called away to her ill brother in Paris. She returns home when she discovers that she is pregnant, but Pascal dies two hours before her arrival. Before his death, he had completed his files, but M. Rougon and his old servant Martine burn them.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this novel, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, is autistic (or, more accurately, probably, has Asperger's Syndrome). He lives with his father and believes his mother died two years before. Christopher is extremely good at mathematics, seems to have a photographic memory, but does not like novels (other than detective stories, which are about observation and logic), because he cannot empathize with human emotions or make sense of the indirect or figurative. For Christopher, metaphors, like fictions, are lies. He is very fond of dogs, and hates to be touched by people.

When a neighbour's dog is killed, he decides to investigate and, with the encouragement of his teacher, to write a book about his investigation. He quickly makes some very disturbing discoveries. He learns that his mother is not dead after all, but living in London with the husband of the dead dog's owner. The fact that his father has lied to him devastates Christopher. He runs away to London to find his mother, and his courage and tenacity allow him to solve not only the mystery of the dog's death but that of his family's past and future.

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Less Than Zero

Ellis, Bret

Last Updated: Jul-30-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

19 year old Clay has returned to Los Angeles for the Christmas break, his first time back after leaving for a Northeastern college.  He spends the next month meeting with his clique, going to parties and restaurants, visting a friend hospitalized for anorexia, lying on his bed at home and joining his family at the mall or for dinner.  As Clay and his friends are the progeny of LA's wealthiest, this typical return-from-college-for-the-Christmas-break story also entails driving expensive cars, steady drinking, constant smoking, copious amounts of cocaine and marijuana, and frequent sex (gay, straight; voluntary, paid-for).  Dulled by drugs and boredom, these teenagers are drawn to excesses to jolt them out of their expensively-maintained ruts: to prostitution and snuff films, to dead bodies in the street and, ultimately, to sadistic child abuse.

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Chronic Progressive

Cohen, Marion

Last Updated: Jul-29-2010
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In Chronic Progressive, a collection of 151 short poems divided into three parts, Marion Deutsche Cohen, a well spouse, continues her startlingly candid account of caring for her husband Jeff that began in her previous collection, Epsilon Country (1995, see annotation).  Part I of Chronic Progressive describes Cohen's frustrations during the last of the 16 years that she cared for Jeff at home, as multiple sclerosis left him almost completely dependent on her.  Mother of four, a prolific writer, a poet, and a mathematician, Cohen describes unrelenting stress when family services and insurance providers fail her, when she feels she must protect the sanctity of her home as health care aides and agencies treat it like a hospital or nursing home, or when she's exhausted, which is most of the time.  "It's a state, a / chronic state, a chronic progressive incurable state," she writes (55).

The middle section, the longest, follows Cohen during the ten years Jeff resides in Inglis House, a Philadelphia care facility.  These poems mix reflections on the past with working out the rhythms of life without Jeff in the house, but still unshakably on her mind.  In this section, she also writes "The Last Love Poem for Jeff" and anticipates his death in "A New Vow": "I will give you the best deathbed anyone ever had" (108).  In Part III, Cohen experiences relief and begins life with a new spouse after Jeff's death.  She recalls herself as ". . . the one he began with, the one he'll end with / the one who's been too much in the middle" (162).  But she quickly turns to "Wedding Preparations Former Well Spouse Style" and the "Love Poem for Her New Love."

Taken altogether, the poems reveal a profound effort to sustain vitality and remake ways of living-with integrity-at the edge of human endurance.  "Yes, how readily we reclaim our territories," Cohen observes near the end of her book (180).

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Dancing After Hours

Dubus, Andre

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story is told from the perspective of Emily, a forty-year-old spinster and former high school English teacher, who tends bar in a Massachusetts town. Emily has built a "disciplined" life, seeking to protect herself from the emotional pain of earlier failed romantic attachments, and from the cynicism that propelled her out of teaching--a cynicism born out of the apathy with which the students responded to her own passionate love of poetry. She has held herself aloof from the cautious social overtures of Jeff, the bar manager.

One night, a white man in a wheelchair and his black male attendant drive up to the bar. The arrival of this pair leads Emily to examine and re-assess her life. "Emily had worked [t]here for over seven years, had never had a customer in a wheelchair, and had never wondered why the front entrance had a ramp instead of steps." The disabled man, Drew, is quadriplegic (the result of diving into a wave at age 21, as Emily later finds out). But he and his attendant, Alvin, seem to be comfortable in the bar and with each other, and Emily relaxes.

As she observes Drew and watches how Alvin helps him, she tries to imagine their lives. "She thought of Drew . . . learning each movement he could perform alone, and each one he could not; learning what someone else had to help him do, and what someone had to do for him . . . So, was anyone boundless? Most of the time, you could avoid what disgusted you. But if you always needed someone to help you simply to live . . . you would . . . become disgusted by yourself."

Emily also imagines Jeff's life as a divorced father, and she can even empathize with Jeff's former wife, who left him. Jeff, she learns, had had a friend who became quadriplegic, the victim of a land mine during the war in Vietnam--hence the ramp entrance to the bar. As the story ends, Emily agrees to let Jeff cook lunch for her.

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Your Tired, Your Poor

Mueller, Lisel

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Mueller traces the path from forced exodus/immigration to struggling with a new language, to the eventual day when "you dream in rhyme, in a language / you never wanted to understand." In this evocation of diaspora and eventual acculturation, speech and language are important metaphors.

The poem is in three sections. Part 1, "Asylum," (14 lines) is enclosed by quotation marks, perhaps because the speaker describing a border crossing is still articulate in her native tongue. This section is highly personalized, written in the first person, and speaks of homesickness, dislocation, abandonment--"the life you say I must leave . . . bundled and tied . . . for the trash collector."

Part 2, "English as a Second Language," (15 lines) is written in the third person and describes the state of estrangement from meaning that accompanies unfamiliarity with a new language and culture. Letters of the alphabet become "crushing crossbar[s]" and "spying eyes." This section ends, however, with some hope that understanding will develop: the letters for the word "tree" might become intelligible, "could take root, / could develop leaves."

The final 16 line section, "Crossing Over," is written in the second person and marks the day when the transition to the new country and the new life and the new language is as complete as it ever will be. Now fully able to comprehend her surroundings, the speaker feels compelled to name the details of her environment, finds herself "humming the music you stuffed your ears against" and notices a certain strangeness when she communicates with those she left behind--"voices from home arrive . . . bent by the ocean."

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The Man with Night Sweats

Gunn, Thom

Last Updated: Jul-27-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The theme of this book of poems is life in a time of deadly plague. The author depicts his world ravaged by illness. Some of the poems are quiet love songs for others, for the world and its delights, a world turned upside-down by the ravages of AIDS. Many of the poems are elegies for friends who have died in the epidemic.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In May of 1944 the author, a Hungarian Jewish physician, was deported with his wife and daughter by cattle car to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. This memoir chronicles the Auschwitz experience, and the German retreat, ending a year later in Melk, Austria when the Germans surrendered their position there and Nyiszli obtained his freedom. The author describes in almost clinical detail and with alternating detachment and despair what transpired in the crematoria and the dissecting room during his tenure as chief pathologist working directly under Dr. Josef Mengele.

From the first, Nyiszli suspected that there were horrors emanating from the crematoria but he singled himself out from a group of physicians by deciding to "[break] ranks" when Mengele asked those with forensic training to identify themselves. This act secured his survival: the remaining physicians, none of whom stepped forward, all soon perished, while he was assigned to the Sonderkommandos--the prisoners who carried out the exterminations, and who were themselves regularly exterminated to prevent the truth from becoming known. He writes, "As chief physician of the Auschwitz crematoriums, I drafted numerous affidavits of dissection and forensic medicine findings which I signed with my own tattoo number."

At times self-congratulatory about his forensic expertise, at times forcing himself to witness atrocities which he could have avoided, occasionally finding a way to delay death for some of the inmates, Nyiszli was determined to record what he saw--to bear witness, were he to survive. Uncannily able to read a situation and take advantage of it, the author relates how he managed to get his family out of Auschwitz just before they were scheduled for annihilation. Even in the final weeks of the war, when he and thousands of prisoners trudged on foot for weeks with the retreating German army, many dying along the way, he remained shrewdly assertive--and lived.

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