Showing 591 - 600 of 3265 annotations

Hurry Down Sunshine

Greenberg, Michael

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This impactful memoir recounts the events of the summer of 1996 when Greenberg's fifteen-year old daughter Sally "was struck mad," as he puts it (3).   Greenberg's portrayal of Sally's behavior as her illness erupts -seemingly from nowhere-- is staggeringly vivid and trustworthy, as is his description of the series of reactions that belong to him, the father who cannot protect, cannot even reach his daughter, although she sits beside him.   

A then-struggling writer, Greenberg unfolds the story, set in a ramshackle, five-story walk-up apartment in the Greenwich Village where he and his second wife (Sally's step-mother) reside.  Among the many rewards of this story is a colorful slice of a New York city life, around the block and in the locked ward.

Greenberg takes us through Sally's initial onset, her sleeplessness, grandiosity, delusions, and frantic drive to communicate, "a pile-up of words without sequence" (17).  The portrayal of his and his wife's initial shock; the diagnosis, "fulminating mania" with indicators for bipolar disorder; Sally's eventful hospitalization, and her return home in a medicated state that Greenberg finds almost as unsettling a transformation as the onset of the mania.  He details building a rapport with Sally's intriguing psychiatrist, as he observes Sally's efforts to do the same. Greenberg tells us about the day he decided to take Sally's medication -for a variety of understandable and also desperate reasons.  This sequence is brilliantly funny and poignant. And he gives us glimpses of the cost to his marriage of these events, bringing the stresses to light with astounding compassion for all concerned.

This memoir moves with exceptional grace between unfolding events and Greenberg's beautifully informed reflections on them.  Observations about the mental illness of James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, are woven through the text, as are insights and characterizations from other writers and doctors, like that of Eugen Bleuler who, Greenberg informs us, coined the word schizophrenia in 1911, when he observed that "in the end his patients were stranger to him than the birds in his garden.  But if they're strangers to us," Greenberg adds, "what are we to them? (24)" Perhaps the most gorgeous and unforgettable feature of the book is Greenberg's way with words, and his attentiveness to Sally's altered relation to words: "Afraid.  Frayed.  Why are you so a-frayed? She keeps asking" (25).

The story of this hard summer draws in a cast of compelling characters, including Michael's mother who arrives, it seems, from another world -of material comfort and propriety-bringing surprising sources of comfort to her adult son and to her granddaughter.  We also get to know Steve, Greenberg's older brother who, also suffering from mental illness, lives the life of a shut-in only blocks away from Michael, who brings him groceries and looks after him, at times a challenging job.

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We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders

Wagner, Pamela

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Each poem in this collection is preceded by brief comments both by the author/patient and by her psychiatrist.  Together the poems chronicle incidents in the interior life of a woman who has lived with schizophrenia for 35 years, been hospitalized, changed doctors and medication, undergone intense feelings of isolation, and also has experienced remarkable support and love from a twin sister and a few loyal friends.  The poems range in tone from matter-of-fact tellings of psychotic episodes to reflections on relationships, both personal and professional, that have been important in the course of treatment.  The book is organized as a chronology that traces the trajectory of diagnosis, illness, treatment and recovery; the final section is entitled "Beginning Again."  Read in sequence, they give a rich sense of the writer's life, struggles, resilience, and unusual self-awareness.  

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Finest Kind

Wait, Lea

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Twelve-year-old Jake moves from Boston to the rural port town of Wicasset, Maine, with his mother, father, and six-year-old brother, who has "fits" as a result of what we now know to be cerebral palsy. The family keeps Frankie hidden, because neighbors in Boston regarded his disease as evidence of some wrongdoing on the parents' part and shunned them. It is 1838, and the father has lost his job in a bank because of the "Panic of 1837," and takes a job at a lumber mill for which he is ill suited. As the job keeps him away except for weekends, Jake has to learn how to gather food, fuel, and local information to care for his mother and brother in a small, drafty house.

He gets to know neighbor children whose mother remains hidden because, as he later learns, she is a hopeless alcoholic. Eventually he gets a job with the schoolmaster/jailer, befriends a mentally handicapped young man with no home, and gets to know the local doctor who persuades him that the community will accept his brother and family, and that their secret need not remain hidden. After weeks upstate on a logging trip, the father comes home with an arm crushed in an accident. The doctor helps him find work as a clerk in the custom house.

In the father's absence, in addition to his other accomplishments, Jake helped prison inmates and the schoolmaster/jailer's family escape a burning building, winning the gratitude and respect of the townspeople. On his father's return and promise of new work, he has renewed hope of private tutoring that might prepare him for college despite the family's poverty.

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Losing and Finding

Fiser, Karen

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Like her earlier collection, Words Like Fate and Pain (see this database), the thread of connection among these exquisite poems is the experience of chronic suffering. However the poems vary widely in focus and content, including those that touch on the intimacies of love found and lost, family relationships, musings on the road, political events, philosophical ideas, and qualities of words themselves. All open doors to an inner life deeply examined and thoughtfully lived. The poems deal frankly not only with the experiences of various kinds of pain, but with pain remembered and feared, with the mental detachment that enables one in pain not only to endure, but even at times to be playful about the business of living life in spite of ongoing suffering.

One is aware of the speaker in these poems as not only a patient, but as a writer who loves words, a woman who enters wholeheartedly into the relationships life puts in her path, and an observer with a wry wit and sharp sense of irony. Poem titles include "Cripple Time," "Trauerarbeit," "Phantom Life," "The Mind, That Ocean," "Pain as Metaphor," "Sleeping in My Notebook," "One, With Egg Roll," and "Waltzing the Gorilla."

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Mr. Right and My Left Kidney

Saltzman, Joan

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir by Joan Saltzman recounts her marriage, in her forties, to a man whose kidney disease was progressing to a point of choice between dialysis or transplant.  The first half of the book is a lively account of their somewhat stormy courtship, layered with memories of her childhood and reflections on tensions with and loss of her parents.  The second half focuses largely on the difficult decision to donate one of her own kidneys to her husband.  Even undergoing tests to determine she was a match required some wrestling with fear and resistance.  The chronicle continues through bumpy recoveries to a new level of intimacy and understanding of ongoing shared life in new terms.  Her idea of "complete recovery" had to be modified once she recognized that even a successful transplant doesn't restore a former state of health, but does restore a new range of possibilities.

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The Condition

Haigh, Jennifer

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When Gwen is twelve, her parents, suspecting her failure to show signs of normal adolescent development may be more serious than they had thought, have her tested and learn that she has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that frequently manifests in short stature, broad chest, low-set ears, amenorrhea and sterility. The diagnosis brings a new source of discord into an already somewhat dysfunctional New England family.  Gwen's mother, Paulette, prefers not to talk openly about Gwen's condition, or even, for a time, to admit it is real.  Her father, a scientist at MIT, is deeply interested in finding out more about it, but the clinical nature of his interest offends his wife.

Eventually the parents divorce, each to cope with different kinds of loneliness and alienation from Gwen and her two brothers.  One of those brothers, the designated achiever, is gay, but remains closeted for some years, in keeping with his mother's family culture.  The other, after a somewhat rebellious youth, marries a girl from blue-collar California, takes a teaching job, and eventually finds himself identifying with his son who receives a diagnosis of ADD not available during Scott's own youth.  The novel follows the individual stories of the five family members, each of whom carries his or her own burden of suffering, and brings them together during an unusual holiday gathering at the end, not for magical closure, but for a remarkable moment of retrospective understanding and opportunity for each to do some self-assessment and self-disclosure.

At the heart of the story is Gwen's "condition," recognized by all of them as the sadness that lies at the core of their family's chronic discomforts with one another.  Gwen herself finds her way into an authentic love relationship in her mid-thirties with a Caribbean diving guide she meets on a chartered excursion.  Though her mother is horrified and suspicious, and the rest of her family bemused, the experience of authentic love and friendship liberates Gwen from a history of self-defeating presumptions about her own limitations.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In December 1995, at the age of 43, the author suffered a sudden and severe stroke in the brain stem and emerged from a coma several weeks later to find himself in a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome" (LIS). Although his mind was intact, he had lost virtually all physical control, able to move only his left eyelid. There was no hope of significant recovery. This memoir, composed and dictated the following summer, consists of Bauby's brief and poignant reflections on his condition and excursions into the realms of his memory, imagination, and dreams.

The composition of this book was an extraordinary feat in itself. Unable to write or speak, Bauby composed each passage mentally and then dictated it, letter by letter, to an amanuensis who painstakingly recited a frequency-ordered alphabet until Bauby chose a letter by blinking his left eyelid once to signify "yes." In what was likely another heroic act of will, Bauby survived just long enough to see his memoir published in the spring of 1997.

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I Know This Much is True

Lamb, Wally

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dominic Birdsey's identical twin, Thomas, is paranoid schizophrenic. With proper medication he can work at a coffee stand, but occasionally he has severe outbreaks. Thinking he is making a sacrificial protest that will stop the war in the Middle East, Thomas cuts off his own hand in a public library. Dominic sees him through the ensuing decision not to attempt to reattach the hand, and makes efforts on his behalf to free him from what he knows to be an inadequate and depressing hospital for the dangerous mentally ill.

In the process, Dominic reviews his own difficult life as Thomas's normal brother, his marriage to his ex-wife which ended after their only child died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and his ongoing hostility to his stepfather. First in Thomas's interests, and then for his own sake, he sees a gifted Indian woman employed by the hospital as therapist. She helps Dominic come to understand Thomas's illness and the family's accommodations or reactions to it in terms of the whole family system.

In the course of treatment, Dominic discovers sexual abuses taking place in the hospital and helps to expose the perpetrators. He succeeds in getting Thomas released, but Thomas soon commits suicide. After Thomas's death Dominic finds out about their birth father--a secret their mother had shared with Thomas, but not with him.

He also learns that the woman he has been seeing is HIV-positive. She asks him to keep her baby if she dies. At first he resists, but later, having found his way back into relationship with his wife, he takes the baby. The book ends with several healing events that leave Dominic able to cope with the considerable loss, failure, and sadness in his personal and family history.

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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