Showing 71 - 80 of 293 annotations tagged with the keyword "Obsession"

A Spot of Bother

Haddon, Mark

Last Updated: Jun-12-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Hall has recently retired when he discovers a lesion on his hip which he takes to be skin cancer. Even though his doctor tells him that it is simply eczema, George is not reassured for long. His worry gradually becomes panic. He learns that his wife, Jean, is having an affair with an old friend of his, that his daughter, divorced single mother Katie, is going to marry a man he disapproves of, and that his son, Jamie, intends to bring his gay lover to the wedding. At this point his hypochondria becomes distinctly pathological. He attempts to excise the lesion himself with kitchen scissors and ends up in hospital.

With the help of antidepressants and psychotherapy, he begins to recover, and then, finding other marks on his skin, relapses. Things come to a climax at Katie's chaotic and (for the reader) very funny wedding, where George, on a risky mixture of valium and alcohol, makes an overly confessional speech and then physically attacks his wife's lover. Order is restored with the help of Jamie and Ray, the groom, who turns out to be heroically kind and efficient (and whose working-class status is then forgiven by George and Jean), and the novel ends with happy reconcilations. George's health anxiety has not, though, entirely disappeared and the novel ends with a clear sense of the mental effort required, especially as we age, not to give in to our fears of disease and death.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author's mission is to investigate, understand, explain, describe, and puzzle over the nature of phobias -- his own, and that of other sufferers. Allen Shawn is a composer, pianist, and teacher, and is a member of a gifted family: his brother, Wallace Shawn, is a playwright and actor; his father was William Shawn, for many years editor of the New Yorker Magazine. As a musician and academic, Allen Shawn is "successful." And yet, his life is severely limited by agoraphobia, "a restriction of activities brought about by a fear of having panic symptoms in situations in which one is far from help or escape is perceived to be difficult" (13). The author interweaves sections that summarize his extensive readings on the fight-flight reaction, evolution, brain and mind, Freud's theories on phobia--with his personal history, especially as he believes it relates to his phobia.

Shawn's descriptions of how he experiences agoraphobia are vivid and informative, detailing the situations that trigger his physiologic symptoms of panic and disconnectedness: driving on unfamiliar roads, any kind of travel that is unfamiliar, walking across or on the edge of open spaces, traveling across long bridges, being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). The agoraphobe, he writes, "feels at risk, as if at risk of sudden death or madness" (14). Shawn tells about what he must do in order to strike out on unfamiliar trips, that is, when he gathers up the courage to take them. He must venture up to the point where panic sets in, turn back, then on another occasion repeat the process but attempt to go further, pushing through the panic, until, one day, he can make the entire journey without turning back. Sometimes he never makes it to the desired goal.

The author points to several different factors that seem to predispose people to phobias: heredity, unconscious imitation of a phobic parent, upbringing. In his own case, in retrospect, his father showed symptoms of agoraphobia. Shawn discusses the underlying repression that was pervasive in his household -- his father carried on a long-term relationship with a woman while remaining married. Shawn's mother knew about the relationship from early on but any discussion of it was forbidden, even after it became common knowledge.

Perhaps more important in Allen Shawn's perception of repression is what happened to his twin sister, Mary, who was born with what is now considered to be autism, and mental retardation. Allen felt close to this girl, even though her behavior was unpredictable and baffling. When he was about eight years old, his parents sent her away to a special boarding school without warning Allen, or offering explanations. From then on he rarely saw her; 10 years later she was institutionalized. The family did not speak much about her and her "'exile' . . . added yet another layer of mystification to an already really mystifying atmosphere. It turned out that even in our temperate environment something extremely violent could occur" (177). Not long after that, Allen began to experience severe anxiety in certain situations.

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Consumption

Patterson, Kevin

Last Updated: Mar-04-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the Arctic, winter goes on for ten months every year. The cold temperatures penetrate every aspect of human life. Existence is a struggle. In the Canadian community of Rankin Inlet, an Inuit woman finds personal tragedy as abundant as the snow. Victoria is diagnosed with tuberculosis (puvaluq) as a child and sent to a sanatorium far south of home. Following treatment with medication and a thoracoplasty, she returns to her town years later. Victoria's experience has changed her view of the world but she quickly discovers that in her absence, the people and locale have transformed too.

She marries an outsider, John Robertson, who is a British businessman. His success and local influence allow him to arrange for a foreign-owned diamond mine to open in the area, and with it, a new hospital for the territory. The couple have three children - a son, Pauloosie, along with two daughters, Justine and Marie.

Victoria seems a magnet for misfortune. At age 16, she has a miscarriage. A fourth child dies during a complicated delivery. Her marriage is increasingly strained beyond repair. Victoria's father suffers a stroke and becomes demented. Her mother dies of lung cancer. Husband John is murdered - someone slits his throat. Marie commits suicide. Pauloosie leaves home and sails to the South Pacific.

The Robertson family frequently interacts with the American primary care physician stationed in the isolated region. Dr. Keith Balthazar is a middle-aged atheist who has toiled in the Arctic for more than 20 years and abuses morphine. He keeps a journal of his experiences and meditations and commiserates with the local priest, Father Bernard.

Escape appears to be the best chance at happiness. For Victoria and most everyone else living in this harsh and beautiful land, survival - both physical and emotional - is hard. Personal choices are confusing. Nature doesn't seem to care one way or another.

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The Wizard of West Orange

Millhauser, Steven

Last Updated: Feb-23-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The haptograph - an experimental device that mimicks ordinary feelings on the skin and stimulates previously unknown tactile sensations - sits in a locked room in the basement of a renowned scientific institution. It is 1889, and the reasearch facility is headed by the Wizard. He is a brilliant inventor who is cognizant of the importance of patents and profits. Multiple projects are ongoing, and the Wizard supervises all of them. One of his aims is to mechanically replicate each of the human senses.

The Wizard has many assistants. Kistenmacher, an electrical experimenter, is one of the best. His pet project is the haptograph. The machine consists of a body suit (covered by a network of wires, brass caps, and miniature electromagnets), battery, and unit containing replaceable cylinders. Two test subjects are enlisted. The research librarian (who tells the story in the form of diary entries) is a willing volunteer. Earnshaw, a stockroom clerk, is an unwilling participant.

Inside the suit, the librarian is impressed by a variety of familiar feelings of touch. When strange sensations - a total body caress, regeneration, an out-of-body event, and a sense of being suspended in air - are provoked, a new world is revealed to him. He experiences bliss. With ten times more funding and three additional researchers assigned to the venture, the haptograph could be commercially available in three years.

Dreams are smashed when Earnshaw deliberately wrecks the apparatus. The Wizard terminates the project and reassigns Kistenmacher to a more menial task. The librarian ponders the Wizard's motives in halting the development of the haptograph. Perhaps the gadget is too dangerous and even heretical. Possibly the public is not ready for it. Maybe the Wizard figures he cannot turn a profit from it.

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Therese Raquin

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Jan-28-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Madame Raquin, a widowed haberdasher, lives with her son, Camille, who has a history of poor health and is weak and uneducated, and her niece, Thérèse, conceived in Algeria by Madame’s soldier brother and a “native woman,” both of whom are now dead. Raised by her aunt as companion to the invalid Camille, Thérèse is a model of repression. When Thérèse turns twenty-one, she and Camille marry, and the three move from the country to Paris. One day Camille brings home an old friend, Laurent. He and Thérèse become lovers and decide to murder Camille so they can marry. On an outing they go boating and Laurent drowns Camille.

The murder replaces their mutual passion with guilt, remorse, and evenutally, hatred. The two must wait before they can marry without arousing suspicion; they are both increasingly haunted by memories of Camille and visions of his corpse. When the aging and still-bereft Madame Raquin actually helps arrange for them to marry (to ensure that they will take care of her), they torture each other with their proximity, and they torture Madame Raquin, now immobilized and silenced by a stroke, by allowing her to learn that her trusted caregivers killed her son. The three live in torment until, finally, Thérèse and Laurent kill each other.

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Second Language

Wineberg, Ronna

Last Updated: Sep-25-2007
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Summary: All thirteen short stories in this collection draw readers into the quietly compelling lives of disparate and very ordinary characters who function and suffer in unsettling ways. We are like them and not like them, but their circumstances, while sometimes disturbing, are familiar--and strangely magnetic. The opening lines of "The Lapse" illustrate this power of attraction:

I married Joanne during a lapse. A religious lapse. I don't display my beliefs like a gold medallion, though, as many whom I know do. I prefer to observe in private. After all, any intimate relationship belongs only to the entities or people involved. (p. 35)

Who can bypass an invitation to enter into announced intimacies, however private, that must be revealed in a matter of pages. What lapse and who is Joanne?!

"Bad News," centers around Sheila Powers, a psychologist, whose disruptive marital break-up is compounded by her mother's recent diagnosis of cancer and a subsequent flow of memories about her mother, her father, and herself. She is "between worlds...between life zones." (p. 113) Aspects of the future, at least her mother's, may be somewhat predictable, but the complex depths of the past mix with the present to generate sticky threads that belong to the story and to the readers as well who will recognize bits and pieces of their own family lives.

In a fourteen page story with a decidedly off-putting title, "The Encyclopedia," Wineberg zeroes in on Doris who, after a dissolved relationship, decides to sell the thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica-"the macro-edition, the micro-edition and the year books" purchased by the former couple. Not about remote bits of history or dinosaurs, we discover, but a story about separation, a series of lovers, benign conversation with a fellow worker who claims to be similarly tired of men, a possible buyer for the unwanted encyclopedia, a relationship with the married buyer, an end to the relationship, and a decision to keep the books after all. Her life, we might decide, is encyclopedic, a litany of minutiae that does, indeed, provide information about conditions of existence.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The exquisite young artist, Angélique (Tautou) sends a rose to her lover, the cardiologist Loic Le Garrec (Le Bihan). She is planning a future with him; the only problem is that he is married. But he has promised to leave his wife. Angélique is little troubled that the couple are expecting a baby and when the pregnancy is lost following an accident, she believes the day will be soon.

Her medical student friend, David, worries that she is being used and is appalled by the accumulation of disappointments and slights that Angélique must endure. She falls apart, neglects herself and the home and exotic plants that she has been watching for friends, but when she hears that Loic has been accused of assault by a female patient, she is utterly disbelieving. The patient is found dead and the doctor falls under suspicion.

Rapid rewind, and the movie begins again with the rose, and by repeating a handful of earlier scenes, retells the same events from the perspective of the doctor. He has no idea who is the sender of the rose, and as the flowers, notes, and gifts accumulate he grows more distracted, even angry, and his wife is suspicious.

It emerges that Angélique and Loic have barely ever spoken to each other and that she actually volunteered for house-sitting next door, in order to be close to him. The accident that caused the miscarriage was Angélique’s attempt to kill his wife by running her down with a motor scooter. The patient who charged the doctor with assault was wrongly mistaken by him for the secret admirer; he struck her out of anger and fear. She presses charges against him and pursues him through the courts until she is murdered by Angélique.

But the doctor knows none of that. When Angélique attempts suicide with gas, he saves her life and she is all the more smitten. Gradually the doctor realizes her real identity and the police link her to the murder. She is sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Years pass. Loic and his wife have two beautiful children. Angélique is finally discharged with reassurance that she will be well as long as she takes her medicine. In the final scene, the caretaker moves a large cupboard to find all the pills that she had been prescribed over four years pasted to the wall in a larger-than-life portrait of Loic.

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Thin

Greenfield, Lauren

Last Updated: May-31-2007
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Thin, a documentary film produced, aired and distributed by HBO, is the centerpiece of a multi-faceted project that explores the complex issues of body images and eating disorders in young women. Photographer and journalist Lauren Greenfield began documenting eating disorders in 1997, eventually publishing an article for Time Magazine and a book entitled Girl Culture, as well as producing a traveling photographic exhibit. Returning to one of the facilities featured in the exhibit, Greenfield took up residence at the Renfrew Center, an in-patient facility for eating disorders in Florida, to film the day-to-day suffering of four young women struggling with anorexia over the course of six months.

The youngest is Brittany, a sad and troubled fifteen-year old, whose bulimia and anorexia began when she was only eight (her weight bounced from 185 to 95 pounds in one year) and whose mother has her own very unhealthy relationship to food. Brittany is eventually returned to her weight-obsessed mother because of the loss of insurance. Shelly, a twenty-five year-old, psychiatric nurse, has been anorexic for six years and enters Renfrew at 84 pounds with a surgically-implanted feeding tube. Her identical twin visits to plead with Shelly to refrain from slowly killing herself and ultimately destroying their family. Polly is a twenty-nine year old, charming troublemaker whose health is returning but whose defiance of rules eventually gets her kicked out of the facility. The oldest patient is Alisa, a thirty-year old, divorced mother of two whose eating disorder ostensibly developed at age seven when a pediatrician persuaded her mother to put her plump daughter on a severe diet. Alisa's graphic account of a single day of binging and purging is shocking, and her forced release from Renfrew because of problems with health insurance precipitates a return to this pattern after she tucks her children into bed.

 

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Born in Vienna, Alma Rosé (1906-1944) was a gifted violinist with an illustrious concert career. Her mother was the sister of composer, Gustav Mahler, and her famous father, Arnold, conducted orchestras. All the family members were non-observant Jews. Alma was talented, beautiful, audacious, and arrogant. After an unhappy early marriage to Czech violinist Vása Príhoda, she established a remarkable orchestra for women that toured Europe.

As the German Third Reich consolidated its power, her only brother, Alfred, fled to the USA. She managed to bring their widowed father to England, but displaced musicians crowded London making work difficult to find. Alma left her father and returned to the continent, living quietly as a boarder in Holland and giving house concerts when and where she could. She took lovers.

Despite the urging of her family and friends, she kept deferring a return to safety in England. In early 1943, she was arrested and transported to Drancy near Paris, thence to Auschwitz six months later. Initially sent to a barrack for sterilization research, she revealed her musical brilliance and was removed to marginally better accommodations and allowed to assemble an orchestra of women players.

The hungry musicians were granted precarious privileges, but Alma became obsessed with their progress and insisted on a grueling schedule of rehearsal and perfection. Some said that she believed that survival depended on the quality of their playing; others recognized that the music, like a drug, took her out of the horror of her surroundings.

In April 1944, she died suddenly of an acute illness thought to have been caused by accidental food poisoning. In a bizarre and possibly unique act of veneration for Auschwitz, her body was laid "in state" before it was burned. Most members of her camp orchestra survived the war.

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Summary:

This remarkable collection of short writings, introduced by renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who visited the Sutterwriters (of Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, California) to offer a workshop, provides a broad, compassionate, imaginative window into the life inside and around an urban hospital. Patients, staff, and all interested in healing through writing are invited to come and participate-with an accent on the latter: no one is invited who isn't willing to write.

Chip Spann, the editor, came to Sutter Hospital with a Ph.D. in English, and has the privilege of coordinating this fluid community of writers as part of his work as a staffmember. His conviction, voiced in an engaging introduction, is that literature is a powerful instrument of healing--both the literature we read and the literature we create--and that the experience of literature belongs in community. The individual pieces are accompanied by photographs and short bios of contributors.

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