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By the author's own admission, this memoir is a collection of fragments taken from her memory of bits and pieces of her four year experience as a nurse in an evacuation hospital unit following the front lines up and down the European theatre during World War I. The work is fragmented because this experience was fragmented.
The first few chapters are dream-like descriptions of the men marching into battle and crawling back, or being carried back. The second collection of short vignettes dips--just a wee bit--into some of the individual soldiers' immediate stories. The latter segment of the book deals in more detail with the operations of the field hospital, some of its personnel, and some of the patients. Finally, the author treats the reader to a handful of poems, perhaps unnecessary, since the entire memoir is like one giant poem.
Second Opinions, Jerome Groopman's second collection of clinical stories, illuminates the mysteries, fears, and uncertainties that serious illness evokes in both patients and doctors. The book is divided into 8 chapters, each a clinical story involving a patient with a life-threatening illness, plus a prologue and epilogue written by Groopman. The stories focus on people who face myelofibrosis, acute leukemia, hairy cell leukemia, breast cancer, and marrow failure of unknown cause. Two chapters are Groopman's personal accounts of his firstborn son's near fatal misdiagnosis, and of his grandfather's Alzheimer's dementia.
This collection of 20 essays continues and expands upon the theme--how we living care for our dead and incorporate them into memory--that Thomas Lynch, a poet and undertaker, introduced in his first book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).
In this new book, Lynch writes rambling pieces that begin with some observation about his funereal trade then blaze off into musings about religion ("The Dead Priest"), love and divorce ("The Blindness of Love," "Y2Cat"), poetry ("Reno," "Notes on 'A Note on the Rapture to His True Love'"), and the interplay of mortality and morality ("Wombs," "The Bang & Whimper and the Boom"). In his first book, Lynch wrote scathingly of abortion and mercy killing, and here he continues his thought provoking considerations of both.
In what might be the most interesting and radical essay in this collection, "Wombs," Lynch walks a precarious line between pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric; ultimately, he asserts a woman's right to abhor decisions about her body that "leave her out." At the same time, he asks if the reproductive choices available to women, "when considered for men," might not seem "irresponsible, overly indulgent, and selfish." What if, he writes, men could declare (without stating their reasons) their interest in their unborn children "null and void, ceased and aborted?" Lynch, who spends most of his time in the contemplation of the deceased, seems to find in death a spark of life; then he fans it into flame with language.
Gabriel McCloud, 18, has just been killed by driving his truck into a tree while intoxicated. The small town goes into shock. The chapters of the novel are narrated successively by key people in Gabriel's life: his girlfriend; a teacher who saw his potential and gave him extra chances he needed; his embittered and violent father; his two brothers, an uncle who has been estranged from the family for years; the son of the local mortician; a buddy; the sheriff. Each of them goes through a particular kind of shock, grief, and reflection following the loss.
Jennie, Gabriel's girlfriend, pregnant with Gabriel's baby, decides to take herself to the beach and commit suicide. She sits for some time on a rock that will soon be buried by the rising tide, but is eventually spotted and rescued by a man she has feared and despised: Gabriel's father. The various voices that give us vantage points on Gabriel's difficult life and violent death testify also to how important even the life of a somewhat wayward, underachieving, confused teenager can be to a community of people who recognize him, some belatedly, as a gift.
Some interesting and very odd characters (including a few scientists and researchers) inhabit the eleven short stories in this collection. In "Concerning Mold Upon the Skin, Etc.," Anton van Leeuwenhoek creates his first microscope and becomes so absorbed by the invisible worlds revealed to him that he neglects his own family. "Nowhere" is the tale of an old anatomy professor who aspires to spice up the curriculum by obtaining a corpse for his students to study. "Tumbling" recounts the difficult life of a young woman understandably haunted by the possibility that she may inherit Huntington’s chorea from her father and her inspired liberation of over one thousand laboratory mice.
In "Chloroform Jags," a professional midwife self-experiments with chloroform "not to escape time but to dissolve time." Other stories describe the execution of an elephant; the murder of a physician who happens to be an important figure in the French Revolution; a woman with a talent for insomnia who has not slept for six months; a psychoanalyst and his patient; an eighteenth century blind beekeeper; and Dorothea Dix, an early advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
A 199-page collection of twelve essays by undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, superficially about his mortuary trade, but actually about much more--life and death; the process of mourning; how we human beings pass though our common lives with grace or desperation; how the graveside ritual serves memory, family, and society. In the preface, Lynch says that early on he came to understand that the undertaking trade he would inherit from his father had little to do with what was done to the dead, but everything to do with how the living responded to the deaths of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.
Particularly outstanding essays include "The Undertaking," in which Lynch divulges the practical and emotional secrets of his trade as he buries Milo, a man who owned a Laundromat; "Crapper," a humorous, rollicking essay that demonstrates our modern society's inability to deal either with the thought of dying or the actual dead body; "The Gulfatorium," a flight of fancy about building a graveyard in a golf course, but really about the nature of suffering and the afterlife; "Mary & Wilbur," about neighbors, about our fear of death and our impulse to memorialize; "Uncle Eddie, Inc.," about an uncle's "clean-up service" that sanitized rooms after messy suicides and about the natural order of life and death and the moral implications of our manipulation of that order through assisted suicide, abortion, and genetic manipulation. My personal favorite is the final essay, "Tract," in which Lynch says how he wants his own death and burial to be managed, how he, a witness to our final rituals, wants to be witnessed.
Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.
Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.
Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.
Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.
Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)
He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.
This collection's first section contains eight poems that address AIDS. "Inventory," a listing of the author's acquaintances who have died of AIDS, catalogs a variety of responses to this illness. Other poems are stark portraits of death in progress ("Waste Not," "Photo") as well as evidence of the love and coping skills a diagnosis of AIDS elicits ("Althea," "In Time of Plague," "Sonnet Positive"). "The Review" ironically compares a popular movie about AIDS to its reality: in the movie, family members do not flinch from kissing their infected son.
The second section addresses coming out as a Lesbian ("In the Duchess"), domestic violence ("Beatings"), and Lesbian sexuality and relationships ("Hunger" and "Want"). "My Body" is another effective "list" poem, a catalog of the female body and how its physical dimension becomes the visual history of a life "healed and healed again."
The final eight poems examine the difficult relationship between a daughter and her dying mother. The book comes full circle as the "swift river" (death from AIDS) of the book's opening poem becomes the "cold river" the speaker now swims in, a metaphor for internalizing a mother's "bitter edge" as well as the accumulated deaths of friends and lovers ("Cold River").
"To Spirit," "Journey," and "Here" regard the daughter's deathwatch over her mother. The remaining five poems serve to balance loss and hope, especially "Legacy," in which the narrator accepts how age is transforming her own body into her mother's, "her scared eyes shining in triumph."
American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.
From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.
Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.
Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.
The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.
Maurice Sendak’s illustrations of a fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm are integral to this children’s book and have therefore been included in this art database. Refer to the "Commentary" section below for the discussion of Sendak’s illustrations.
This fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm, rediscovered in 1983, is prefaced by a short letter to "Mili," presumably a young girl much like the one in the story; what follows is a tale designed to teach children that life can be unpredictable. The story also demonstrates, however, that the unknown can sometimes provide shelter and security even when things are not familiar.
A young widowed mother, afraid for her daughter when the village they lived in was about to be attacked by invading warriors, sends the child to hide in the forest for three days. Alone and frightened, the girl loses her way, prays to God and is led to a little house tucked away in the woods where she meets a kind old hermit, Saint Joseph.
Three days (translated thirty years earth time) later, he decides it is time for the girl to return to her mother, whose dying wish is to see her daughter once more before death. Handing Mili a rosebud, he promises that after she meets her mother, she will be able to return: "Never fear. When this rose blooms, you will be with me again." The next morning the neighbors find the child and mother together, dead in their sleep.