Showing 61 - 70 of 75 annotations contributed by Ratzan, Richard M.

Conundrum

Morris, Jan

Last Updated: Jul-22-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

As James Morris, the author was the dashing journalist who covered the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953 for The Times of London; a member of the elite and quintessentially male 9th Queen's Royal Lancers ("famous for their glitter and clublike exclusivity"--p. 27); the husband who married Elizabeth, fathering several sons. But, as the writer says in the first sentence of the book, "I was three or perhaps four years old when I realized that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl. I remember the moment well [James was sitting beneath his mother's piano], and it is the earliest memory of my life."

Realizing he was a member of a tangled (a favorite word of the author) group of transsexuals, James felt himself trapped in a conundrum of gender (he felt and considered himself female) versus sex (he was genotypically and phenotypically male). "To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial; it is soul, perhaps, it is talent it is the essentialness of oneself" (25). (Morris goes on to quote C. S. Lewis's Perelandra.)

After some fruitless interactions with the medical profession, Morris travels to Casablanca in the summer of 1972 to undergo sex-changing surgery and becomes Jan Morris. Unlike many if not most transsexuals, post-operatively Morris fared quite well emotionally and has, to date, been quite happy with the change (see below). Jan Morris's writing is as humorous and eloquent as James Morris's was. She describes (magazines like Rolling Stone and publishers like Random House and thousands of readers have never cared what gender or sex was holding the pen) how life changed in clubs, restaurants, and in taxi-cabs, where Jan met the first man to kiss her, post-surgery, "in a carnal way" (151). (Morris records that "all I did was blush.")

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The Anatomy Lesson

Goldberg, Marshall

Last Updated: Jul-22-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The time is 1954 and the place Boston. Dan Lassiter is a first year medical student back from Inchon and the Korean War, taking--and in danger of failing--anatomy when he becomes obsessed with his cadaver, a young and very well proportioned man he thinks must have been a boxer. As he tries to pass anatomy under the withering and authoritarian attention of Dr. Nathan Snider, a stern anatomist who worships at the altar of Vesalius, Dan discovers that his cadaver is a very physically fit young man, whose death fascinates him and about whom his professor will not yield any information. Using his newspaper connections with one of several women he's dating, Dan discovers that the cadaver Dr. Snider refused to identify was Rick Ferrar, a fearless boxer who was fast friends with Lemuel Harper, an African-American and also, like Dan, a veteran of the Korean War.

The remainder of the book resolves the familial baggage Dan is carrying from his parents' death and then his brother's; his quest for the character and mode of death of Rick Ferrar; the intertwining of his and Rick's personalities, girlfriend, and destinies; and his medical school career, which at times seems more a hobby than a serious pursuit. By novel's end all the subplots are resolved and Dan, attending a funeral for the class's cadavers, volunteers to work with Dr. Snider in the anatomy lab to improve his mediocre knowledge of anatomy.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Written in 1896 and originally a collection of poems that seemed destined to go out of print forever, A Shropshire Lad comprises 63 individual poems of varying meter and length, all dealing with the themes of adolescence, the rustic countryside of Shropshire, and premature death, usually by violence, war, e.g., I, III, IV, XXXV, LVI; homicide, e.g., VIII, XXV?; suicide, e.g., XVI, XLIV, XLV, LIII, LXI; and state execution by hanging, e.g., IX, XLVII. There are the deaths of young lovers (XI, XXVII), young soldiers (see war and XXIII, perhaps), young revelers (XLIX) and young athletes (XIX). The living and dying and, most of all, the remembering occurs in the pastoral setting of Shropshire.

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University Hospital, Boston

Oliver, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-22-2001
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator is visiting a sick loved one in University Hospital, Boston and reflects on the many patients who have stayed in this hospital, most especially the young men from the battlefields of the American Civil War.

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When Death Comes

Oliver, Mary

Last Updated: Apr-23-2001
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

When Death Comes is a blank verse poem that proclaims the poet's manifesto for life. In defining the moment of death for herself, she is defining how she wants to have lived her life up to that point.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is in the form of a villanelle, a French verse form derived from an Italian folk song of the late 15th-early 17th Centuries. Originally reserved for pastoral subjects, modern poets from W. H. Auden ("Time Will Say Nothing") to Dylan Thomas (Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night) have employed it for more somber subjects.

The strict definition of a villanelle adheres to the following pattern: five tercets followed by a quatrain with the rhyming scheme of a1ba2 aba1 aba2 aba1 aba2 aba1a2. Williams's "Villanelle," like Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," obeys this convention while relating a bereaved, haunted mother's lament over her dead daughter.

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Talk Before Sleep

Berg, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Determined not to like Ruth Thomas, Ann Stanley is immediately smitten by her charm and force of personality, and especially by her vitality--a vitality that too soon succumbs to breast cancer. As one of a cadre of women almost obsessively devoted to the care of a dying Ruth, Ann nurses Ruth through her final illness, until--in a move curiously like the decision of Charity (also dying of cancer) to keep Sid, her husband, sequestered from her final trip to the hospital, in Wallace Stegner's far superior novel, Crossing to Safety--Ruth flies to Florida to die at her brother's house.

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The Anatomy Lesson

Connell, Evan

Last Updated: Feb-18-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

During an art class on anatomy, an art instructor in an undergraduate curriculum addresses the students on the dedication and vision an artist needs to become a true artist.

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Sonogram

Kirchwey, Karl

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Like Paul Muldoon's Sonogram (see this bibliography), this poem was occasioned by the poet's wife's ultrasound of their first child, Tobias. (See pgs. 258-259 of the anthology for a description of the poet and his comments on this poem.) "Sonogram" is alternately lyrical and bright ("through succulences of conducting gel") and dark (" . . . or sinuses of thought / like Siracusa's limestone quarries, where / an army of seven thousand starved to death.") The language is highly poetic (and successfully so) in conjoining the worlds of medical technology and poetry ("or alveolus in a narthex rose") and playful ("God's image lies couched safe in blood and matter" punning on "vouchsafed").

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St. Peregrinus' Cancer

Hall, Judith

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A highly referential poem, "St. Peregrinus' Cancer" (eight stanzas of four couplets each) "may be most indebted to the arcane [book] Watercolours of Cancer Patients' Dreams (Phoebe Lord, M.D., London, 1964)" according to the poet. (See pg. 254 of the anthology for a description of the poet and her comments on this poem.) The poem starts with an image of St. Peregrinus (Laziosi, the 14th century Italian patron saint of cancer patients who was himself miraculously cured of a cancerous foot after a night of prayer) crossing a field and quickly moves internally to the poet's family and private world, describing her and her mother's cancers. A dense poem, it relies heavily on imagery and punning (the word "crab" appears twice in case the reader didn't get the reference the first time).

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