Critical Essays Archive

Food and Power in Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums

Reichl’s new memoir tells the story of a nation’s heyday and financial collapse, tracing the interconnection between food and money.

The Secret Horror of The Haunting of Hill House

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A secret horror isn’t magically eradicated because its spoken aloud. Rather, its implications spread, deepen, further infiltrating our complex web of relationships, our motivations, our dreams. In fact, some horrors can’t be named; the words fail us.

Oksana, Behave! and Olive, Again

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New novels by Maria Kuznetsova and Elizabeth Strout, written in the form of chapter-length stories, give us the opportunity to see a great span of a life and to focus in on the moments that matter.

Henry James on Honoré Daumier

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For an artist whose career ended with little recognition, the yearly international exhibitions featuring Daumier’s work attest to the staying power of his vision. For James, this embodies the filial connection between the artist and the novelist—with all the love and strife that implies.

Rachel Carson’s Toxic Inheritance

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Carson’s invocation of the idea of an American pastoral penetrated by a dangerous, toxic presence is, as Lawrence Buell points out, neither new nor confined to ecological writings—or even American writings. Buell does, however, name the publication of Carson’s most famous book as the effective beginning of “toxic discourse.”

The Failure of Familial Communication in Happiness, as Such

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Natalia Ginzburg presents a family’s dysfunction as an engrossing emotional rollercoaster, yet manages to make her story both haunting and deeply human.

Grace Paley and The Storyteller’s Pain

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“Good Night and Good Luck” and “Debts,” by Grace Paley, are kinetic, and suggest more than is on the page: that a good story is one that’s told, and retold, written and read, with the goal of connecting people in different places and across generations, bringing everyone involved some

The Power of Reading

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For Ocean Vuong, Jesmyn Ward, and Jaquira Diaz, reading and writing became necessities early on when their classrooms, families, and streets confined them, left them feeling othered and uncertain of their identities.

Shakespeare’s Scheming Women

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Before Lady Macbeth took center stage as Shakespeare’s leading femme fatale, the bard experimented with a number of scheming women, most notably in his first works: the trio of history plays covering the tumultuous reign of Henry VI.

Child Sexuality and the Never Filmed Scene in Stephen King’s It

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There is a part of King’s iconic novel that has been left out of both of its film chapters (as well as previous adaptations). And while I understand and agree with the filmmakers’ decision to leave it out, I admit I would be awed by anyone who attempted to