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Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.
Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.
Adam and Seth Bede work as carpenters in the little village of Hayslope. Seth proposes to Dinah Morris, a gifted Methodist preacher, but she wants to devote herself to God's work. However, neither Dinah's faith nor her aunt Mrs. Poyser's sharp country truths can deflate the vain fancies of her pretty Hetty Sorrel (Mrs. Poyser's other niece). Although good Adam woos Hetty, she is distracted by the idle attentions of Captain Arthur Donnithorne, and when Adam finds out, he fights Arthur, who leaves town.
But when Hetty realizes she is pregnant, she runs away to see Arthur, only to find, arriving destitute after a difficult journey, that his regiment has been called away. Hetty restrains herself from suicide and gives birth in a lodging-house, then runs off with the infant and buries it in the brush, where it dies. After she is convicted for child-murder, Arthur finally hears the news, and Hetty's commuted sentence (transportation) saves her from the gallows. Two years later, Adam and Dinah realize they love each other, and they marry.
Eva McEwen is born in Scotland in 1920. Her mother dies shortly after giving birth to her. At the age of six, Eva is "visited" by two strangers (an older woman and a teenage girl) that only she can see and hear. These mysterious companions steer the course of her life. During World War II, Eva serves as a nurse in a burn unit.
She falls in love with a plastic surgeon but her supernatural attendants have other plans for Eva. She secures a job as a school nurse, marries a teacher, and has a daughter. Sadly, Eva dies at a young age from cancer of the liver and pancreas. Thus the novel ends much like it began, with the tragic death of a young mother who leaves behind a devoted husband and daughter while ghostly visitors are poised to both share and meddle in the youngster's life.
This varied collection of short stories and poems is unified not so much by theme as by their appropriateness to the intended listening audience--the bedridden or homebound elderly. In a brief but moving preface editor Carolyn Banks recalls her work in an adult day care center where she was expected to entertain those who were recovering from strokes or suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Reading aloud provided sometimes startling moments of contact with patients who were incapable of sustained conversation. Banks realized that while there are many story collections for children and general adult audiences, no one had done a collection for a group with these specific needs.
The collection includes 52 stories--one a week for a year--that cover a range of life situations. Not all focus on age or illness, though some do. In several a grandparent plays a crucial role in a grandchild's life. Some are set in the 1930's, 40's and 50's--periods likely to trigger memories for those now in their 70's and 80's.
Several stories focus on situations of widowhood and other losses, and some on death: Banks insists that death "is not a taboo topic." Many of the stories are comic, since, she comments, laughter is "an important response to court." All are short enough to read in a half hour or less, and "not insultingly simple."
This monumental portrait of the 17th century knight, Sir Richard Saltonstall, and his family was commissioned for the Saltonstall family home. The wealth of the family is indicated by intricate tapestries, a woven rug, jewels, and the rich fabrics of clothing and curtains. Absent from the picture is any religious iconography.
Saltonstall stands left of center and draws back the rich red curtain on the deathbed of his first wife. With his ungloved right hand he holds the hand of his eldest child, a son. This son is still young enough to wear a dress, but his coloring and the dress style indicate a boy. He in turn holds the arm of his younger sister, so that a diagonal line is formed from the father's hat, down his arm and through the two children.
The pale dead mother lies all in white, her eyes open, and her upturned hand reaching towards her children. On the right side of the picture sits Saltonstall's second wife, and she holds her baby on her lap. She also is dressed in white and is separated from her husband by the first wife. In addition, the diagonal line between Saltonstall's left hand and his baby is interrupted by his dead wife. However, he does gaze in the direction of his second wife, although no one in the portrait looks directly at another person.
The Exact Location of the Soul is a collection of 26 essays along with an introduction titled "The Making of a Doctor/Writer." Most of these essays are reprinted from Selzer's earlier books (especially Mortal Lessons and Letters to a Young Doctor). Six pieces are new and include a commentary on the problem of AIDS in Haiti ("A Mask on the Face of Death"), musings on organ donation ("Brain Death: A Hesitation"), a conversation between a mother and son ("Of Nazareth and New Haven"), and the suicide of a college student ("Phantom Vision").
Living in early 20th century Greenwich Village are two young women artists, Sue and Johnsy (familiar for Joanna). They met in May, six months previously, and decided to share a studio apartment. Stalking their artist colony in November is "Mr. Pneumonia." The story begins as Johnsy, near death from pneumonia, lies in bed waiting for the last leaf of an ivy vine on the brick wall she spies through her window to fall.
"I’m tired of thinking," says Johnsy. "I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves"(16). However, an unexpected hero arrives to save Johnsy. It’s not the brusque doctor who gives her only one in ten chances to survive, raising them to one in five if Sue can get her to hope for something important like a man, not her true desire to "paint the Bay of Naples some day" (14).
Mr. Behrman, an old man who lives in the apartment below Sue and Johnsy, who enjoys drinking, works sometimes as an artist’s model, and as yet has made no progress over the past 40 years on painting his own masterpiece, becomes in typical O. Henry fashion the hero. The evidence of his heroics are found the day before he dies from pneumonia: outside Johnsy’s window are a ladder, a lantern still lighted "some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it . . . it’s Behrman’s masterpiece--he painted it [a leaf] there the night that the last leaf fell"(19), Sue informs Johnsy.
At the age of 42, Barbara Rosenblum learns, after several misdiagnoses, that she has advanced breast cancer. This book, co-written by Rosenblum, a sociologist, and her lesbian partner, Sandra Butler, a feminist writer and activist, is a record of their lives together from the diagnosis until Rosenblum's death three years later. Early on, Rosenblum decides that her dying will be exemplary and self-conscious, and she and Butler use their writing as a way to create an illuminating examination of their lives over those three years.
The book's title is accurate; the writing takes the form of alternating meditations by two women, on the effects of cancer on their relationship, their work, their families, and their social, political, and spiritual beliefs. Especially significant are the differences between their voices, and the differences between the experience of the person who is dying and that of the person who is going to have to survive and grieve. The writers bravely explore the conflicts between them as well as their profound bonds.
After a mastectomy and eighteen months of chemotherapy, Rosenblum has a very brief respite, followed by liver and lung metastases, and prolonged further chemotherapy. A few months after ending treatment, she dies at home.
Madame Ranevsky returns to her estate after five years in Paris, where she had fled after the accidental death of her young son. In the interim her brother and adopted daughter have been running the estate, which has gone hopelessly into debt, largely because of Madame Ranevsky's improvident life style. As she and her adolescent daughter Anya arrive, friends and retainers have gathered to greet them. Among these are Trofimov, her dead son's tutor and an ineffectual idealist; and Lopahin, a brilliantly successful businessman whose father had once been a serf on the Ranevsky estate.
The family's beloved cherry orchard, along with the house and the rest of the estate, are about to go on the auction block. Lopahin proposes a solution: break up the cherry orchard into building plots and lease them to city folks to build summer villas. This would generate an annual income of 25,000 rubles and, thus, solve all of Madame Ranevsky's financial problems. She refuses to consider cutting down the orchard. Her brother, Gaev, gravitates ineffectually around the problem, suggesting various harebrained schemes to raise money, but in the end he believes there is no solution: "Someone gets sick, you know, and the doctor suggests one thing after another, that means there's no cure . . . " (p. 346)
The auction occurs, and, lo and behold, Lopahin himself has purchased the estate with the intention of developing the property for summer villas. In the last act, as Madame Ranevsky and her family prepare to vacate the house, workmen hover in the background, ready to begin chopping down the orchard. Madame Ranevsky departs for Paris, and Lopahin leaves to pursue his business in the city. A much alluded-to liaison between Lopahin and Varya, the adopted daughter, dies on the vine, apparently because the businessman has neither the time nor inclination for romance. As the house is closed up, Firs, the senile 87-year-old servant, is inadvertently left behind.
Sleep is a much sought-after prize in this novel. Bonnie Saks is a 39 year old woman whose life has spiraled out of control. Already divorced and the mother of two young boys, she is tormented by insomnia. Her life is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant and struggles to complete her unfinished dissertation on American literature.
Ian Ogelvie is a 29 year old psychiatrist and sleep researcher experimenting with a breakthrough drug known as Dodabulax that greatly enhances REM sleep. While Ian helps Bonnie sleep, she in turn provides him with a wake up call of sorts. Ultimately, Bonnie becomes uneasy with the changes triggered by her blue pills. Despite suffering a miscarriage, her life becomes more tolerable and her insight much clearer.