Critical Essays Archive

Menstruation in Fiction

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Fiction illustrating menstruation clearly emphasizes the shame, myths and confusion surrounding it. But perhaps more, it illuminates, in a way that is uncommon for literature, the fear felt by the menstruating woman about her body, as well as a societal fear that the menstruating woman is a threat.

Donald Hall, Sharon Olds, and Dani Shapiro on Marriage

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I stumbled across Donald Hall’s “The Third Thing,” an essay on his marriage to fellow poet Jane Kenyon, before my wedding. Hall’s measured tone and rich details came in sharp contrast to all of the bridal materials I was bombarded with, and brought marriage back to life for me.

Epicurean Happiness in a Post-Post-Apocalyptic World

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Rather than presenting the dystopian vision of a “happy” society in easy opposition to an implied non-dystopic iteration, Nicola Barker interrogates the boundaries between the two, asking if there is, in fact, something desirable in the dystopic vision—and if the alternative—perhaps a society we recognize—is really better.

Personal Identity and The Face: A Time Code

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As Ozeki’s reflection shows, our conception of identity changes over time—whether due to personal maturity or changes in the social climate.

Authority, Authenticity, and Representation

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Thinking about #ownvoices within the broader framework of literature suggests that we acknowledge where our representations come from and who controls them—and that we strive to rectify the distortions and erasures generated by centuries of marginalization by always paying attention to whose voices get to be heard.

Stealing Fire and Going Down the Rabbit Hole

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How can feminist theory and art look in the eyes of a future that seems increasingly doomed to eco-catastrophe? And what does that have to do with trickster myths?

Fact and Fiction in Tell Me How It Ends and Lost Children Archive

Reading both of Valeria Luiselli’s most recent books, which each center on the refugee crisis at the US-Mexico border, is a powerful experience—doing so can show us our own complicity in what is often a “background story.”

The Threshold of Memory and Return

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Confronting the manifestations of trauma in individual people and larger communities, the nonlinear form of Iman Humaydan’s 2012 novel exposes the importance of living with complexity despite its accompanying discomfort in the context of the Lebanese Civil War and beyond.

The Art of Lying

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As any reader knows, the best storytellers are the best liars. Karen Russell, master of magical realism, has time and again proved her abilities—most recently, in her new collection, a book.

Too Young to Know

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Great child narrators feel like a Oulipo trick, pulled off seamlessly. Instead of writing without certain letters, writers of child narrators blind themselves to certain truths.