Critical Essays Archive

How the United States Nurtures Violence

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While the characters of Laila Lalami’s newest novel confront and sometimes overcome the discomfort caused by their differences, Lalami presents one final troubling question for her readers: what markers of violence have our willingly blind eyes allowed to fester?

The American Dream in The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

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Lucette Lagnado’s 2007 memoir is a testament to the difficulties that are so inherent to the immigration process that even a family of people who are educated, upper-class, and well-off experience them.

Memory and Heartbreak in To The River

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While Olivia Laing’s 2011 book is a remarkable piece of nature writing, it is, at its core, a book about a heart mending itself and the unwieldiness of memory.

The Uncannily Foreign World of Westside

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Reading W.M. Akers’ debut novel is a magnificent experience, but it is uncomfortable, to say the least—the world it depicts, a 1921 version of Manhattan, is not so unfamiliar after all. As fantasy novels often do, the book offers a disturbing allegory for our times.

The Dissolution of Absolutes en La Frontera

Gabino Iglesias’s recent novel revolves around multiple characters journeying through la frontera, the border between the United States/Mexico. In each of the characters’ stories, however, there are multiple journeys being made, multiple borders being crossed, and as their stories progress, what they're striving for is less and less clear.

The Lives of Others in Tales of Two Londons: Stories from a Fractured City

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What is to be made of the myriad tales collected in this anthology, some of them connected by geographical proximity and nothing more? Part of the effect is to render the familiar unfamiliar.

Writing Millennial Technology

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The language Curtis Sittenfeld, Olga Tokarczuk, and Catherine Lacey use to describe millennial technology is varied and complex, but reading their works we have the sense that we’ve made something big, rapidly evolving, and somewhat out of our control.

Translating Genderqueerness

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Genderqueerness is futuristic at its core, which is why you’ll come across many genderqueer characters in speculative fiction. But translation creates friction: gender identities meant to be ambiguous or kept secret until the reveal of an unexpected twist come up against other linguistic systems, as well as translators’ preconceptions.

The Nearness of the Moon

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Italo Calvino’s work reminds us that curiosity itself is a kind of gravity, a pull that is difficult to understand or measure and yet is instinctively, unavoidably felt.

Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca

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A master of suspense, Daphne du Maurier’s highest skill lies in finding the latent dread in mundane domestic moments.