Showing 41 - 50 of 114 annotations contributed by Belling, Catherine
Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Genre: Short Story
The Bacteriologist has a visitor to his laboratory, a pale stranger who arrives with a letter of introduction from a good friend of the scientist. The scientist shows his visitor the cholera bacillus under a microscope and they talk about the disease. The visitor is particularly interested in a vial containing living bacteria, and the scientist describes the power of cholera, saying what a terrible epidemic could be caused if a tube such as the one he holds were to be opened into the water supply.
The scientist's wife calls him away for a moment; when the scientist returns, the visitor is ready to leave. As soon as the visitor has gone, however, the scientist realizes the vial of bacteria is missing, that the visitor must have stolen it. He runs out in a panic, sees the visitor's cab leaving, and hails another cab to give chase. The scientist's wife, horrified by his inappropriate dress and hurry, follows in a third cab, with her husband's shoes and coat and hat.
We shift to the point of view of the visitor in his cab. He has indeed stolen the vial. He is an Anarchist who plans to release the bacteria into London's water supply. His motivation is fame: he feels he has been neglected by the world, and now he will reveal his power and importance. In the speeding cab, however, he accidentally breaks the glass vial.
He decides to become a human vector. He swallows what is left in the vial, and stops the cab, realizing that he no longer needs to flee. When the scientist catches up and confronts him, the Anarchist gleefully announces what he has done. The scientist allows him to walk away, and tells his wife that the man has ingested the stolen bacteria.
There is a twist: the vial, it turns out, did not contain cholera, but a strange new microbe the Bacteriologist had been studying, the only known effect of which is to make the skin of the animals exposed to it turn bright blue. The Bacteriologist reluctantly puts on his coat and returns home with his wife, complaining that he will now have to culture the bacillus all over again.
This novel spans one day in the life of a London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. It is set on a specific day, Saturday, February 15, 2003, when mass demonstrations were held in London protesting the coming war on Iraq. This actual historical and geographical context colors the fictional narrative, told entirely from the point of view of Perowne, who wakes in the early hours of the morning to see a burning aircraft descending towards Heathrow. Although this turns out not to be a terrorist attack, as Perowne at first fears, it sets up the book's atmosphere of foreboding and the powerful contrast between dangerous world events and Perowne's essentially happy family.
The Perownes are all talented and successful and fond of each other. Henry's wife, Rosalind, is a media lawyer; their son, Theo, a blues guitarist; and their daughter, Daisy, a published poet. This Saturday's highlight is to be a family dinner, where it is expected that Daisy and her grandfather, John Grammaticus, a famous poet, will reconcile after an argument.
Henry is on the way to his morning squash game when he is involved in a minor car accident with a dubious character named Baxter. He escapes theft and a beating by realizing that Baxter suffers from Huntington's Disease. He tells Baxter the diagnosis and offers hope of a non-existent treatment, shifting the power base of the encounter from brawn to brain and humiliating Baxter in front of his cronies. (This part of the novel was published in the New Yorker as a short story, The Diagnosis. See the annotation in this database for a more detailed account.)
Henry then plays an aggressive game of squash with Jay Strauss, his American colleague, and they discuss the Middle East and the impending war. He buys seafood at the market for the evening's dinner, and he goes to the nursing home to visit his mother, Lily, who has multiple-infarct dementia. He listens to his son's band, goes home and cooks dinner. He argues with Daisy, his daughter, just come from the protest march, about the coming war.
When the family is gathered for dinner, Rosalind returns from work and Baxter and his henchmen force their way into the house. They threaten Rosalind with a knife, break Grammaticus's nose, and force Daisy to strip, at which point Perowne realizes his daughter is pregnant. Then Daisy recites poetry--Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"--and, unlikely as it is, the effect of the poem is to distract Baxter enough that Perowne is able to lure him upstairs with the promise of more information on treating Huntington's, and he and Theo then throw Baxter down the stairs. Baxter is taken away in an ambulance, and later Perowne is called in to operate on his brain. The novel ends with Perowne back in bed with his wife.
Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Genre: Short Story
Sid Elliott is an alcoholic Vietnam veteran who works as an Emergency Room janitor. His lover, Roxanne, is a drug addict. Their relationship deteriorates until Roxanne leaves. After trying to stop a patient from banging her head on the wall, Sid is transferred from the ER down to the morgue. When the body of Gloria Luby, a 326 pound woman, is brought in, Sid decides to try and move her himself, repectfully, rather than rolling her with the help of an orderly. She is too heavy: they fall, and Sid is trapped under her body, his knee smashed. The story ends with Sid in the hospital, after knee surgery, visited by the phantoms of Gloria Luby, his father, and Roxanne.
Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction
Genre: Short Story
Nina Spiers comes home to find that her husband, Lewis, has committed suicide. Lewis, a former high-school biology teacher, had ALS, and they had discussed this possibility, but Lewis has not included Nina in his final decision and its enactment. She searches in vain for a last message from Lewis, but can find nothing. We learn that Lewis left his teaching job over the community's pressure on him to incorporate the possibility of divine creation in his teaching of evolution; profoundly rationalist and scornful of religion, he refuses and resigns.
Lewis's body is taken to the local funeral home where, inadvertently, it is embalmed, which he would not have wanted. Ed Shore, the undertaker, arranges to have the body cremated immediately and brings Nina a note found in Lewis's pajamas. Instead of a message for her, it is a piece of badly-written satirical verse about the school and the argument between creationism and science. There is nothing for Nina.
Later Ed brings Nina the ashes. Ed and Nina have a history: once, on an evening when Lewis and Kitty, Ed's saint-loving Anglican wife, were engaged in a fierce argument, Ed had kissed Nina. Now, they talk of the preservation of the body and the existence of the soul. Nina then takes Lewis's ashes and scatters them at a crossroads outside of town. At first she feels shock at what she is doing, and then pain, but we infer too that as she sheds the comfortable self-effacement of her role as Lewis's wife, Nina is perhaps coming back to life herself.
Summary:Morgan Spurlock decides to test the effects of fast food by eating nothing but food from McDonald's, three meals a day, for thirty days. Three physicians and a dietician are involved from the outset and track his rapidly increasing weight and declining health. Along the way he visits McDonald's outlets around the US, interviewing workers and fast food enthusiasts, and considers the implications of a recent lawsuit brought against McDonald's by customers who blame the company for their obesity.
Esther (Marina de Van, who also directed the film) is a young urban professional woman. At a party, she goes out into the dark garden and trips, falling and tearing her trousers. Only several hours later does she realize that she has seriously wounded her leg. This is either the beginning of, or the first evidence of, a radical shift in her relationship with her own body.
The doctor who stitches the wound is surprised that she had not felt injury, and tests her for neurological damage, finding none. She starts cutting at the wound, refusing to let the skin close. Her boyfriend, Vincent (Laurent Lucas) and her friend Sandrine are both concerned and repelled by her behavior. She experiences a kind of separation from her body, and it appears that her mutilation of it is an effort to re-anchor herself in her own flesh.
At an important business dinner with clients, she drinks too much and suddenly experiences her left arm as separate from her body, a severed object that threatens to act on its own. She has to stop her left hand from playing with her food and, holding her arm on her lap, she cuts it as if to make it feel, to use pain to reattach it. To explain away the damage she has done to herself, she has to fake a car accident.
Eventually the compulsion exceeds her ability to control it, and she enters a crescendo of mutilation. She hurts her body with calm, detached interest, cutting her face, attempting to tan a piece of skin she has removed from herself, even eating her own flesh. At the end of the film she is alone, in some kind of new state that is not explained.
Grace Rhodes (Lisa Eichhorn) is an unmarried New York advertising executive. Around forty years old, she decides that she wants a child and has no more time to find the right man. She becomes a client of Cryogenetics Sperm Bank and conceives by donor insemination.
As soon as she is pregnant, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the sperm donor, and her friend, Elaine, helps her by taking on a temp job at the sperm bank and breaking into their files, discovering the identity of Grace's donor, a photographer named Peter Kessler (Stanley Tucci). He is single, having an affair with a married woman, and his landscape photographs never include human figures because, he says, "people mess up the composition."
Grace visits Peter's upstate New York studio. They meet, become friends, and then begin dating. Grace tells him she is pregnant and that he is the child's donor father. He is outraged and throws her out. Months pass, and Peter arrives in New York to apologize to Grace, who is now heavily pregnant. He gives her a photograph he had taken, of her. The film ends ambiguously, but suggests that they will become a couple and parent the child together.
The first part of this novel presents a detailed picture of the Jewish Californian Cooper family, centering on the sixty-year-old Louise, who is dying of breast cancer. Her husband, Nat, is unfaithful, and, she suspects, only loves her when she is at her weakest and most sick. Her daughter, April, is a lesbian folk singer who becomes pregnant with the help of a gay male friend and a turkey baster. Danny, the son, is also gay, living in New York with Walter, his lover, who is becoming increasingly detached and obsessed with internet sex groups.
Louise considers herself lucky, though, compared with her younger sister Eleanor, partially disabled by childhood polio, disorganized and ill-groomed and married to Sid, whom Louise finds deeply unattractive. Eleanor's son is a sociopathic drug addict, and her daughter has ovarian cancer caused by Eleanor's taking DES (diethylstilbesterol) in pregnancy. She sends Louise newspaper cuttings about the causes of homosexuality and the dangers of AIDS.
The first part having established the complex dynamics and histories of the family's relationships, the second brings the entire family together in the crisis of Louise's final illness and death (a reaction to chemotherapy drugs causes severe chemical burns and she dies in a burn unit in a San Francisco hospital). After her death, the new dynamics of the family are established, and Louise's son and daughter conclude that their mother had "a terrible life" (p. 261).
The short third part shows that no such conclusion is possible, that even those closest to us remain terribly but fascinatingly unknowable. A flashback to a point just before Louise's final illness describes her attempt to convert to Catholicism and a brief moment in which she experiences a marvelous sense of complete harmony.
The narrator of this fictional autobiography is Cal Stephanides, an American of Greek descent with a hereditary 5-alpha-reductase deficiency that gives her the prepubertal anatomy (and thus the social upbringing) of a girl, but at puberty begins her transformation into ambiguity, then maleness, and then, gradually, masculinity.
The novel is a kind of biography, not just of Cal, but also of the mutant gene that causes her/his condition. It is transmitted from a small village in Smyrna, through his grandparents, who were also brother and sister and who married on the ship to America, apparently leaving behind family as well as national identity. Their Greekness and the gene come with them, and the consequences of their incest haunts Cal's grandmother, Desdemona, until the very end of the novel.
The family settles in Detroit, and a third biographical strand is the story of the Greek immigrant community in 20th century America, from Ford's assembly lines to bootlegging during the prohibition, through Detroit race riots and then to affluent suburbia.
Cal's family settles in the suburb of Middlesex, and the focus narrows to the individual. Calliope is raised as a girl, but in adolescence, Callie learns about hermaphroditism, narrowly escapes sex-assignment surgery, becomes a performer in a seventies sex show in San Francisco, and finally returns home to Middlesex, Grosse Point, Michigan, as a male. The story is framed by Cal's much later adult life as a man in Berlin, and his successful romance with a woman he meets there.
Primary Category: Literature / Poetry
Liv is pregnant. She is an artist, and married to Erland. She names the fetus, a boy, Ersatz (a replacement, a copy, a person not yet real?). This book-long poem, divided into short segments making up nine (month-like) chapters, reconstructs her pregnancy in words, often literally, using words-within-words (for instance in a section called "Proximity of Posed to Exposed"), echoing people-within-(pregnant)-people, ideas emerging from words, and life (and death) emerging from bodies.
The poem does not offer a simple coherent narrative, although it does follow the biological narrative form of gestation. Instead it circles around the experience of containing another person, and the dissonance Liv seems to find between biological and verbal or cultural creating. Liv's ambivalence about this tension is captured throughout the work, perhaps most notably in her exploration of a painting of the dead Virginia Woolf, the drowned body of a childless woman writer, now become "beached debris." The final part of the poem captures powerfully the experience of childbirth, and the afterword is in a new voice, that of Liv's son.