Critical Essays Archive

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.

Autofiction and Juliet Escoria’s Juliet the Maniac

Although our culture’s relationship to fiction and truth has evolved, autofiction, a form of fictionalized biography, has been around as long as people have written books.

The Problem with the Quest Narrative

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Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel uses the problematic traditional quest story to reveal how the intrusion of blind privilege can do real and lasting harm.

The Poetic Instant and Creative Criticism

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I’ve often wondered about the efficacy of my academic training. What good did it do? The definitive effect hasn’t been a breadth of ready knowledge but rather a facility for surprise and a capacity for shaped responses to texts I call “creative criticism.”

Water in The Veins of the Ocean

In Patricia Engel’s 2016 novel, a family, having been exiled from Cartagena, Colombia to the United States, is separated from their country by a vast gulf. But the ocean doesn’t just act as a barrier—it is also the scene of the traumatic event that the protagonist’s life revolves around.

The Unconventional Heroine

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Though Catherine Morland may be neither Austen’s cleverest nor her wisest heroine, the story of how her naiveté is transformed to discernment is no less compelling, showing that understanding others takes a combination of good faith and imagination, tempered by experience.

Van Gogh’s Letters

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Even before he began to devote himself to painting, Van Gogh was gathering layers of experience that provided a way of seeing far beyond the inspiration works of painters he encountered provided him.

Excavating the Past in Don DeLillo’s Underworld

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Rather than simply being connected by the rampant consumerism or the refuse of the Cold War that populates this novel, the characters of DeLillo’s 1997 novel are deeply connected by their emotional response to the beautiful.

Language and Trauma in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

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Little Dog, the narrator of Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, learns to be strategic in his use of language as a means of self-preservation.

Frame Stories and the Passage of Time

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If one purpose of a frame story in a novel is to prime the reader to listen to what might be a long or meandering tale, what’s the purpose of a frame in a short story?