Critical Essays Archive

Love, Liberation, and Empowerment in Godshot

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Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel, out today, feels familiar, devastating, like it has already happened, could, or might again. It’s the story, too, of motherhood in all its iterations, from abandonment to adoption, at the best of times and worst, and the moments, no matter how small, of love.

Reading Letters Summer 1926: Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Rainer Maria Rilke

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In the summer of 1926, Rilke, Pasternak, and Tsvetayeva are poised on the brink of disaster, but instead of anticipating it, or of dwelling on what may come, they write. Their letters attest to a febrile, almost frenzied creative period.

One Hundred Years Later: The Dark Predictions in This Side of Paradise Have All Come True

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A century after its publication, the omens of disillusion and discontent, of economic unease, of rebellious divisions within F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel—they all seem more urgent and more dangerous with every re-reading.

The Many Voices of Memory in The Magical Language of Others

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While a memoir can often feel myopic or even self-indulgent, Koh’s presents clearly the truth that is tucked between the pages of all memoirs—that all of us are pieced together by a multitude of stories told to us and that we, in turn, tell to others.

Women’s Bodies and Constellations: Reflections from Life

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The portrayal of women’s bodies in Irish literature, and in wider society, has created an impossible contradiction. Today’s U.S. publication of Irish author and critic Sinéad Gleeson’s debut essay collection, chronicling life in the human body as it experiences illness, love, grief, and motherhood, however, marks a contribution that

Sorrow and Persuasion

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The quiet, steadfast heroine of Jane Austen’s final novel, Anne Elliot, has lived a life of much sorrow. After my mother’s death, the melancholy of her character offered me a safe way to experience the sorrow and loneliness that I otherwise kept at bay.

Forensic Architecture and César Aira’s Ghosts

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In essence, Aira says that architecture is a language, a manifestation of our unconscious into reality; it is a diorama of our humanity, rendered in miniature form, shaped by our dreams. So what should we make of the dreams of architects who create buildings of inequity?

Three Poems of Ordinary Exuberance for Uncertain Times

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Eileen Myles’ “Peanut Butter,” Jane Hirshfield’s “My Species,” and Robert Frost’s “Birches” each use plainspoken vocabulary and domestic imagery to branch outwards towards life’s most urgent questions; each poem locates itself in small, particular moments of bliss and wonder.

The Cozy Horror of the Fairytale Mode in The Pillowman

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The line between fairytale and other narrative modes is one between distance—emotional and temporal—and immediacy. Martin McDonagh’s 2003 work consistently plays across this line, retreating from and then suddenly foregrounding moments of visceral horror.

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.”