Critical Essays Archive

The Multiple Consciousnesses of Exile

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Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s humor and literary power bring a fresh, clear, and unapologetic voice to the experience of living as an other in the global North while simultaneously shedding light on exile’s true absurdity: that society remains apathetic toward the exiled.

The Fiction of Genius

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The social cost of the fiction of genius, which upholds the elite few as inherently more brilliant than everyone else, regardless of underlying biases and inequalities, is unknowable. Helen DeWitt nevertheless captures a sense of this loss across her novel with equal parts fire, humor, and grief.

An Artist’s Journey in The American Painter Emma Dial

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Samantha Peale’s 2010 novel opens with a celebrated painter standing alongside his regular, slightly awe-struck collectors, directing his assistant as she finishes a moody seascape for him.

The Language of Solitary Women

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In amplifying the tension that lies between a woman’s internal language and her external one, novels by Claire-Louise Bennet and Sayaka Murata examine the woman living on the periphery of her society.

Storytelling in The Collected Schizophrenias

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Anti-stigma work asks us to say, for example, that a person has schizophrenia, rather than is schizophrenic, so the person’s identity does not entirely merge with their condition. In a similar way, Esmé Weijun Wang’s essays move us firmly and resolutely away from the person as a hollowed, misshapen

The Intersection of Memory and Power in The Witch Elm and A Thousand Acres

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The power structures under which we operate can mold and distort our memories, and potentially destroy our lives.

The Innocents Ashore: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore Turns Forty

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Forty years ago, a little-known British writer published a slim volume that went on, miraculously, to win the Booker Prize. Its lucid, almost stringent prose, coupled with its curious subject matter—the lives of houseboat dwellers living on the Thames—brought the work of Penelope Fitzgerald to wide attention.

The Position of English

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Jhumpa Lahiri’s work in Italian is reminiscent of liturgy books with Koine Greek on the left side and English on the other. That she includes the “little brother,” a moniker she’s given Italian, in her 2015 book—and on the left side—is a reversal of the norm.

The Manipulation of Time in Salvatore Scibona’s The Volunteer

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Descriptions of rumination demonstrate how to pause and reflect in order to get to something more essential in the character’s psyche, something that couldn’t be expressed with either action or dialogue—or couldn’t be expressed as powerfully.

Literary Canons and the Reckoning of National Heritages

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In both France and the United States, literature has always been a prime site for these struggles over memory—what gets remembered, and how.