Critical Essays Archive

Edens and Heavens in Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris

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The gardens that compose Glück’s 1992 Pulitzer-winner collection feel at times too beautiful, too lush, to be real, if reality means possessing a terrestrial existence. But they are not exactly Edens: they are not in nor of heaven—at least not the heaven the gardener imagines.

Memoirs of American Ballet

Two memoirs by famous twentieth century ballet dancers, Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland, enter into the ballet canon women’s experiences working with George Balanchine, explaining not only how he saw them, but how they saw themselves.

Faith and Sycamore

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Kathy Fagan’s newest collection of poetry leans on its eponymous tree’s multi-colored, mottled trunks, its hefty size and spreading canopy, to provide a material figure for perseverance and resurrection, replacing those old images of “angel / wings of gold and mica.”

Remembering Henry Bromell

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I met the screenwriter and novelist Henry Bromell, born on this date in 1947, through Tillie Olsen in 1973.

Reading and Writing to a Home

I read Bryan Washington’s debut short story collection as I helped my family pack up my childhood home in Miami. I had moved to New Orleans over eight years before—close enough to drive back down, but still three states and a world away.

Reading The Refugee Summer

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Edward Fenton’s 1982 novel is perhaps one of the better fictional accounts of living at the privileged periphery of a political and then refugee crisis. Importantly, it is also a children’s novel.

Writing Grief

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As Naja Marie Aidt goes about the Herculean effort of wrestling with her son’s death, she utilizes a remarkable variety of forms; her grief is expressed not only through the substance of her words, but through the structure of her text.

The Destruction of the World in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

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Olga Tokarczuk’s newly translated novel has been marketed as a murder mystery, albeit a strange one. It is that, partly, but underneath the whodunit is another novel: one about how our obsession with usefulness leads to greed, and the devastating impact of both on the environment.

The Ghost in the Room

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Recently published stories by George Saunders and Kate Walbert are about remembering more than they are about the past.

The Enigmatic Figure of the Midwife in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders

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The midwife has often been an ambiguous figure both in the history of literature and within the history of labor.