Critical Essays Archive

The Two Versions of Tender Is the Night

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Duality is a constant theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, and fracture along the resulting fault lines is its constant threat. Fitzgerald mirrored these fractures in a brilliant nonlinear structure, though whether he fully appreciated his own craft is unclear, given that he eventually decided to sabotage it.

The Woman in The Woman in the Dunes

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Kobo Abe’s 1962 novel delineates one man’s experience of unjust capture and imprisonment, and the shifting lines between purpose and absurdity that experience foregrounds. Taken as a purely existential novel, the centrality of this figure and his experience can easily remain unchallenged. Yet, he isn’t alone in his imprisonment.

Self-Deception in The Wife

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Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel is not a story about how a “great” writer seduced his young student and how their marriage fell apart. It is a story of something far more compelling: a woman who has hidden her talent behind a man.

The Grief of the Anthropocene in Paige Lewis’s Space Struck

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Inextricably intertwined with the seeming power of the Anthropocene is a deep grief for the loss of a world that we suspect once existed, that we catch glimpses of, but that eludes us more each day.

The Humanity of True Crime’s Victims

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In two books, Maggie Nelson manages to recount the murder of her aunt, Jane, in terms that don’t elide the true horror of the situation, while keeping Jane’s voice firmly centered for readers.

The Haunted House of Lucy Wood’s Weathering

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Haunted houses are liminal spaces by design, the boundary between life and afterlife blurred and the line between truth and imagination called into question within. But the most effective haunted houses in literature blur even more lines—between past and present, and memory and reality.

The Body in Distress

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Our bodies can be instruments, weapons, sources of joy and pleasure and intense turmoil. Two books by Jess Arndt and Ron Dahan explore this, demonstrating all that our bodies can do and signify.

Silence in Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus and Take This Stallion

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For Anaïs Duplan, the most effective way to present a new vision of social relations is to model its workings for the reader, to involve them and implicate them within its structures.

The Sociopolitical Impact of Christ Stopped at Eboli

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While it would be a mistake to attribute a specific motive to Carlo Levi’s writing, his 1945 memoir poses an interesting example of what a political text can realistically achieve.

Mother of All Fears

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All of us dread recognizing the one true powerlessness we have in the world: that ultimate impotence in the face of death. But more than anyone else, a mother is expected to feel powerful in this fight against mortality. Her primary job is to fight death, calmly, every day.