Showing 51 - 60 of 114 annotations contributed by Belling, Catherine
Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction
In this memoir, subtitled "One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor," lesbian author and academic Harlyn Aizley confronts her approaching fortieth birthday by deciding to have a child. She and her partner, Faith, begin the process of choosing its biological father. The first major decision: a known or unknown sperm donor? Eventually they choose an unknown one, from a sperm bank with an identity-release program that will allow their child the option of meeting her biological father after she turns eighteen.
Aizley narrates, in absorbing and often very funny detail, the eight months it takes her to conceive, and then the nine months of pregnancy culminating in the birth of a daughter. Sad but telling counterpoints to this narrative are the terrorist attacks in September 2001, which occur during Aizley's pregnancy, and the experience of her mother, who dies three months after the baby's birth, of ovarian cancer.
Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Genre: Short Story
The story, set in small-town Ontario in 1960, takes the form of letters to her ex-fiancé from a young woman who has returned to the home of her father, a widowed physician who lives with his housekeeper, Mrs. Barrie. She recalls growing up with her strict and remote father and realizes now that he had been performing illegal abortions all her life. He will not discuss it, will not allow the word "abortion" to be said in his house, though she tells him she believes abortion should be legalized.
We are led to suspect that she herself has recently been pregnant.
When Mrs. Barrie breaks her arm, the doctor is forced to ask his daughter to assist with one of his "special" patients. She helps the young woman throughout the procedure, and disposes of the aborted fetus afterwards. Later, trapped indoors by a heavy snowfall, she and her father are sitting together at the kitchen table when she tells him about her own pregnancy.
She had carried it to term, giving up the baby for adoption. She had ended the engagement because her fiancé, a theology student, had insisted that she have an abortion before their wedding because he feared the social consequences of rumors that she had been pregnant before marriage. She is about to ask her father about his own work, and about what might happen should the law change and abortion become legal, when she realizes that he is not listening. He has had a massive stroke, and dies later the same day. The daughter turns away the next patient who calls about having an abortion.
She learns from the lawyer that, mysteriously, her father had virtually no money saved. She gives Mrs. Barrie most of the small amount her father had given her, and then realizes that all his money has already been given to Mrs. Barrie, either because she was blackmailing him, or because he loved her. She cannot tell which, but is oddly exhilarated and is now able to say goodbye to her fiancé for good.
The film covers a brief period in the life of a working-class English family: Mum (Tilda Swinton), Dad (Ray Winstone), their 18-year-old daughter, Jessie (Lara Belmont), and 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). They have recently moved from London to an isolated cottage on the Dorset coast. Mum gives birth to a baby girl, Alice. Tom discovers that Dad is sexually abusing Jessie. When the baby is hospitalized with an unexplained injury, apparently genital, Tom tells Mum about the incest, and when Dad confronts him and denies it, Tom stabs him.
The Longhettis are an Italian-American working class family. Nick (Peter Falk) is a construction worker. He and his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) have three children. Mabel is unusual, perhaps mentally ill, maybe with a bipolar or borderline disorder, but diagnosis is not really the point. She is warm, spontaneous, beautiful, and an affectionate if inconsistent mother. Because Mabel is so eccentric and unpredictable, the Longhetti family seems to function at a kind of delicate equilibrium.
This stability is disrupted when Nick fails to get away from work on a night he and Mabel had planned to spend alone together. The children are with her mother, and Mabel finds it intolerable to be alone, so she gets drunk, goes out, and picks up someone in a bar. The next morning Nick brings a crowd of work mates home with him after the night shift and Mabel copes with the invasion by cooking up a spectacular spaghetti breakfast and flirting outrageously with one of Nick's friends.
Later when a neighbour brings his children to play, Mabel again behaves inappropriately. Nick, under pressure from his mother and Mabel's physician, is persuaded to have his wife institutionalized. She is taken away. Nick angrily rejects the concern of his friends, but struggles terribly to manage the children.
The film ends with the evening of Mabel's return from hospital. Nick and his mother have arranged a dinner party to celebrate her recovery, but it is quickly clear that, despite electroconvulsive therapy, Mabel is unchanged. It also becomes more evident than ever that her "madness" is rooted as much in the family's social network, her uncomprehending parents, judgmental mother-in-law, and volatile husband, as it is in her own brain or personality. But, after an appalling evening, Mabel and Nick put the children to bed and then go about cleaning up the house as usual, their fragile normality restored for now.
Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
A man and woman, probably late middle-aged and married, check into a tropical holiday resort for their last annual vacation. One of them is dying. The man begins telling stories to the woman, as he has promised to, in the unspoken hope of postponing the ending that will separate them. The book consists of the twelve stories he tells, interspersed with her responses to the stories. Each story is in some way about the same two things: about being half of a couple--about love, partnership, and the prospect of loss--and about narrative--about communication, the construction of meaning, and about the way all stories (and lives), sooner or later, must end.
Like their teller, though, these stories do their best not to reach closure. An example is the second story, "Ad Infinitum," in which a woman receives some bad news by telephone--we deduce it concerns her husband's cancer diagnosis--and goes out to where he is working in the garden in order to tell him the news. She has to cross the space of the garden before giving him the information that will change everything for the worse, beginning the end of his life and their marriage.
It occurs to her that the space she must cross can be infinitely extended if, as Zeno's paradox has it, she can keep halving the distance that remains before she reaches her husband (and thus the end of their story). This would infinitely suspend time in their story. And yet, as she walks, she also knows she WILL reach him . . . until the narrator intervenes by breaking into her thoughts and beginning another story, effectively enacting Zeno's theory of the arrow that keeps re-beginning its flight towards the target. Just as stories stave off death in the frame narrative, they seem able to keep this man happily and innocently gardening, in suspended story-time at least, forever.
In the last story, the narrator returns to all the others, pulling together their interconnected patterns and allowing each a kind of closure that, while it reiterates the storyteller's resistance to endings, his act of "beguiling" himself, his wife, and perhaps death itself, "with narrative possibilities still unforeclosed" (224), also reminds us that stories need to end in order to mean.
Penny (Michele Hicks), working as a prostitute, is called to a room in a seedy hotel where she finds her client is a pair of adult conjoined twins, Blake and Francis Falls (played by identical but not conjoined twins, Mark and Michael Polish, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Shocked, she flees but later returns and, when she learns that one of the twins is ill, calls a doctor friend of hers to examine them. She cares for the twins and they become friends. At Halloween, "the only night of the year they [can pass for] normal," she takes them to a party and then back to her apartment where she and Blake almost make love while Francis, evidently the weaker twin, is sleeping.
She tells her lawyer/pimp about the twins, and he tries to persuade them to sell him their story (which he imagines in terms of separation: "The greatest divorce of all time: not who gets the kid but who gets the kidney . . . "). Offended by her betrayal, they return to their hotel room, and, apparently for the first time, the twins fight. Blake wants to get away from his brother.
The next morning Francis is ill once more, and the twins are hospitalized. Michele visits them and learns that they are dying. Francis's heart is becoming weaker, straining Blake's, and the only way to save Blake will be by separating them. Francis cannot survive separation. Penny tracks down their mother (Lesley Ann Warren), who gave them up for adoption at birth. She visits them in hospital. It emerges that Penny herself has a "retarded" child who is being raised by others. Francis's heart fails, and the twins are taken to the operating room.
Later, Penny tracks Blake down where he is now living alone in the trailer where the twins had lived before, as circus performers. The film ends with Blake, now a man with one arm and one functioning leg, telling Penny that the "story of me is over," but also that stories continue after sad endings. What makes an ending sad, he tells her, is the knowledge that the storyteller is continuing without you.
Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a psychoanalyst. He has a beautiful wife, Paola (Laura Morante), and an adolescent son and daughter, Andrea and Irene. One Sunday morning, Giovanni gets a call from one of his patients, newly diagnosed with cancer and frantic. Instead of spending the day with his family, Giovanni attends to his patient. Andrea goes diving with friends, there is an accident, and he is killed.
The rest of the film examines the family’s bereavement. Giovanni finds his work increasingly difficult, and by the end of the film he has decided that he can no longer be a psychotherapist.
A love letter addressed to Andrea arrives from a girl called Arianna: it turns out Andrea had a secret girlfriend. Both parents become obsessed, in different ways, with contacting Arianna. Eventually she visits them, while hitchhiking with her new boyfriend, and the family drive all night along the Mediterranean coast, taking Arianna and the boy to France. Next morning, on the beach at Nice, in saying goodbye to Arianna, they seem to have made progress in continuing their life as a family without their lost son.
Author and Oxford don, C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), lives a sheltered life as a bachelor, sharing a house with his brother. In 1952 he meets an American woman, Mrs. Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). They become friends when Joy moves to England with her young son, Douglas, divorcing her alcoholic husband; when Joy is in danger of losing her visa, Lewis agrees to marry her so that she can become a British citizen.
The marriage appears to be purely a technicality. This is in part because of Lewis’s emotional frigidity with people, which is contrasted with the profundity and energy of his engagement with books and ideas. Joy eventually confronts him about this, and at about the same time she is diagnosed with advanced cancer.
The prospect of her death disrupts Lewis’s ideas about God, suffering, and human relationships, prompting a crisis that leads him to recognize his love for her. Their legal marriage is consecrated in her hospital room and, after radiation treatment puts her in remission, Joy and her son move in with Lewis. After a few months, she dies. Lewis is left with a new knowledge of the real paradoxes of love, connection, loss, and suffering.
Primary Category: Literature / Literature
Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)
This is a rich and diverse anthology of poetry and of prose extracts, both fictional and non-fictional, about becoming a parent. It is organized into three chronological sections: "First Stirrings," about becoming and being pregnant (or of having a pregnant partner: the father’s perspective is refreshingly well-represented throughout), "The Welcoming," about labor and birth, and bringing home the newborn, and "Now That I am Forever With Child," about being the parent of an infant.
Each section contains a cross-section of views, from, for instance, Elizabeth Spires’s languid letter to the fetus inside her to Rosemary Bray’s candid account of her ambivalence about being pregnant; from Julianna Baggott’s thoughts on the Madonna and child, and A. S. (Antonia Susan) Byatt ’s rather frightening description of giving birth in a British hospital in the 1960s, to Hunt Hawkins’s sad poem about holding his dying newborn daughter; and from Jesse Green’s memoir as a gay parent adopting a son to Kate Daniels’s prayer for her children.
The anthology ends with the powerful poem by Audre Lorde that gives its title to the book’s last section. Lorde encapsulates the astonishing change of focus and identity at the heart of becoming a parent.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) has a wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is mentally ill (the exact nature of her "breakdown" is never made clear, but it is implied that she was abused as a child). Nola is an in-patient at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics run by Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan treats patients by engaging in intense role play encounters in which he takes the part either of parent or child to the patient.
The result of his approach is the somatization of emotional problems, his logic apparently being that allowing psychopathology to manifest in the (medically treatable) body liberates the less accessible psyche from illness or harmful emotions. So, for instance, a man with unresolved anger against his father develops sores all over his body during therapy. Their healing enacts his catharsis.
There are problems, however: another patient attributes his terminal cancer to Raglan's therapy, saying "psychoplasmics . . . encouraged my body to revolt against me and it did." Most terrifying of all is Nola's rage. It expresses itself in the form of strange buds that appear on her abdomen. These develop into external wombs, or amniotic sacs, from which she keeps giving birth to deformed and malevolent children.
These children, "the brood," literally enact her rage, escaping from Somafree to attack and kill anyone who is the object of Nola's anger, including both her parents and, eventually, Dr. Raglan himself. When the brood turns on Candy, Frank and Nola's actual daughter, Frank strangles his wife, and her evil offspring die with her.