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Summary:This is the fifth, and final, collection of poems by the surgeon-poet, George S. Bascom, who practiced for over 35 years in Manhattan, Kansas. The poems cover a wide range of topics in a variety of forms, ranging from free verse to sonnet. Many of them are concerned with the poet's medical experiences, both as physician and as patient. The poems arising from Bascom's own illness with prostate cancer are among the most effective in the book; these include, among others, "Operation," "Carpe Diem," "I With My Death," "Notice," "Metastatic Disease," "Progression," and "Medicine Circle." "Gloris," "Post Op," "7-2-59," and "Lydia" are fine evocations of patients and patient care.
The poems in this collection celebrate many of the patients Dr. Schiedermayer has encountered in his practice, and what they have taught him. Most of the poems are vignettes of patients or narratives of medical encounters. The poet begins by "rummaging / with my hand / at the bottom" of his medical bag ("Black Bag"); he needs something more than the usual instruments. He writes wryly about Ricky ("Skin for Ricky"), a 30 year old man with cerebral palsy, who has normal human desires and aspirations; and compassionately about "A Poet Benefactor," who is suffering from breast cancer.
As Dr. Schiedermayer notes in "Amputation," his first serious lesson in medicine is "what you must lose." You must certainly lose a sense of invulnerability--but by becoming vulnerable to your patients' stories, you may also become a source of healing. In the end he gives thanks "for more love than I deserve."
Larry is dying of multiple sclerosis. He walks only with assistance, suffers severe depression, is beginning to be incontinent, and has attempted suicide. His best friend, Chris, decides to take him duck hunting, a sport that has been central to their close relationship. This, however, will be their last trip: Chris has decided to drown Larry in the marsh, as a last act of his love.
As this novel retraces the growth of their friendship, it also traces the growth of Chris's love for Larry's wife, Rachel. Rachel has been an almost saintly caregiver for her husband, weathering his increasing disability and despair, while struggling to maintain her own identity and peace of mind.
John Binkerson ("Binx") Bolling is a young man from a "good" New Orleans family who for some years has devoted himself to money, sex, and watching movies. During Mardi Gras, when the novel begins, he wakes up to the vague feeling that something more is needed in his life.
We meet his Aunt Emily, a Southern noblewoman, and his cousin Kate, who is said to be somewhat unstable since her fiance's death some years earlier; she is currently engaged to the virtually invisible Walter. The action also takes us to the bayous, where Binx visits his remarried (Catholic) mother and her family, including his sickly adolescent stepbrother, Lonnie. (Binx's father died in World War II; Binx, himself, has survived service in the Korean Conflict.)
Subsequently, Binx takes a trip to Chicago with Kate; on the train she offers to have sex with him, but he refuses. Binx and Kate must then respond to Lonnie's unexpected death. In the end Binx decides to give up his business as a bond dealer and go to medical school, and he and Kate decide to marry.
An explorer visits the penal colony, where an officer demonstrates to him the Harrow, an instrument used to inflict capital punishment. The Harrow is an extraordinarily elegant instrument: the condemned man lies face-down on a Bed, while a complex system of needles inscribes the commandment he has broken (e.g. HONOR THY SUPERIORS) on his back. The needles pierce deeper and deeper until the prisoner dies. In the process of dying, however, the condemned man finally understands the nature of justice and his punishment. His face is transfigured, a sight edifying to all those who watch. The officer begins to demonstrate the Harrow on a prisoner condemned to die because he was sleeping on duty.
The machine was conceived and developed by the former Commandant. It soon becomes clear that the explorer does not approve of the death-machine and that he feels morally bound to express this disapproval to the new Commandant, who is already known to have serious questions about using the Harrow as a method of punishment. Suddenly, the officer removes the condemned man from the Bed and takes his place. Before doing so, he adjusts the machine to inscribe "BE JUST." The Harrow begins its grisly work on the officer's back, but malfunctions and goes to pieces--but not before the self-condemned officer has died.
In early 1847, the young Quebec city doctor, Lauchlin Grant, struggles to extract a living from his boring practice and pines over his childhood sweetheart, Susannah. She is now the wife of a prominent journalist, Arthur Adam Rowley, who has charged Lauchlin with her care, while he travels in Europe to report on the ghastly potato famine in Ireland and his predictions for its effects on immigration.
Even as Rowley's letters are read at home, waves of starving Irish land at Grosse Ile in the St. Lawrence River where thousands are ill or will sicken of ship fever (typhus), and die. Lauchlin is called to help at the quarantine station. Of the hundreds in his care, he rescues only Nora. Having lost her family, Nora decides to remain as a nurse, because she is now immune.
Lauchlin sees Susannah only once more, learning that she too cares for victims of typhus, which is also ravaging the mainland, despite the quarantine. He senses her unspoken love for him and, filled with an inner peace, returns to Grosse Ile, only to contract typhus and die. Nora takes the doctor's belongings to Susannah's home, hoping to meet the woman whose name he had mumbled in his delirium. Instead, she finds Susannah's newly returned husband dreading the loss of his now dying wife.
Mrs. Curren, a retired classics professor in Cape Town, South Africa, is dying of cancer. The novel is in the form of an extended letter to her only daughter who has fled apartheid and lives in the United States. During her final days, Mrs. Curren takes in a homeless alcoholic man who appears on her doorstep. Her housekeeper's son Bheki is involved in an uprising. While helping his mother search for him, Mrs. Curren witnesses the burning of a black township and discovers the boy's bullet-ridden body.
Later, Bheki's friend, who seeks refuge at her house, is killed there by government security forces. In anger and despair, Mrs. Curren is forced to confront the "age of iron" apartheid has wrought. Her only companion in all this is the alcoholic drifter, who agrees (or does he?) to send this last letter to her daughter.
In this autobiographical novel, Plath's protagonist, Esther Greenwood, sinks into a profound depression during the summer after her third year of college. Esther spends the month of June interning at a ladies' fashion magazine in Manhattan, but despite her initial expectations, is uninterested in the work and increasingly unsure of her own prospects.
Esther grows disenchanted with her traditional-minded boyfriend, Buddy Willard, a medical student who “had won a prize for persuading the most relatives of dead people to have their dead ones cut up, whether they needed it or not . . . . ” Returning home to a New England suburb, Esther also discovers that she's been rejected from a Harvard summer school fiction course. Her relationship with her mother is painfully strained.
Suddenly, Esther finds herself unable to sleep or read or concentrate. She undergoes a few unsuccessful sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr. Gordon, as well as terrifying electroshock therapy. She becomes increasingly depressed, thinks obsessively about suicide, then attempts to kill herself by crawling into the cellar and taking a bottle of sleeping pills: "red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down." Esther vomits, however, and so, does not die. She is taken to a city hospital and then, through the financial intervention of a benefactor, to a private psychiatric institution.
There, Esther begins gradually to recover. She enjoys the pleasant country-club surroundings and develops a closeness with her analytically-oriented psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan. Esther also undergoes a more successful regimen of shock therapy, after which she feels the "bell jar" of depression lifting.
The stigma of attempted suicide and hospitalization seems to free Esther to behave less traditionally; defiantly, she loses her virginity to a man she's met on the steps of Harvard's Widener Library. At the novel's end, Esther is preparing to leave the psychiatric hospital and is describing herself, optimistically, as transformed.
Seventeen year-old Phyllis Halliday lives with her parents near the maximum security penitentiary in Kingston, Canada. In the year 1919-20, she establishes a forbidden, epistolic relationship with convict Joseph Cleroux, who is serving a sentence for theft and extortion. Messages, money, and small gifts of tobacco, chocolate, and a ring, are concealed in the quarry next to her home where the convicts are sent to work. Influenced by the newly released film with Mary Pickford, she dubs her new friend "Daddy Long Legs," and herself, "Peggy."
Both Phyllis and Joe fear being caught, and they suffer from parallel illnesses. As she falls in love with the man whom she has never met, she neglects her studies, hoping that he will come for her when he is discharged. However, on that day, he is immediately put on the first train out of town. His letters dwindle and cease, but Phyllis continues to wait and hope.
Elizabeth Carpenter is preparing for her fiftieth wedding anniversary and hoping that her children will come home for the event. She nurses her irritable, invalid husband, a retired teacher, who has been a rigid father and is now bedridden with a chronic illness. He is too proud to ask for the things he needs or wants, and spends his vacant hours comparing what he perceives as the dull, dutiful Elizabeth to the "other woman" he loved long ago.
Their oldest child, Victoria, once a fragile beauty full of promise, is institutionalized for a chronic mental illness characterized by irrational fears and self-doubt. The middle child, Jason, is a psychiatrist who has been unable to establish trusting relationships and seeks affirmation through multiple sexual adventures. The youngest child is Emily, a concert violinist whose way of achieving peace is to live abroad, avoiding commitments and her family from whom she is hiding the fact of her own son, Adam. But the reunion leads them to revisit relationships and events in the past and results in some surprises for their present and future.