Critical Essays Archive

Writing as Mourning in Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter

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In Book of Mutter, Zambreno writes, “It is something ineffable about my mother that I search for.” This search, conducted over the thirteen years since Zambreno’s mother’s death, manifests in a fusion of memoir, essay, and meditation, and suggests how writing might embody the lifelong process of mourning a

Scattered to the Wind: Three Novels on Migration from the Middle East and North Africa

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Three debut novels shed light on migration from the Middle East and North Africa, taking up themes of displacement, longing for home, and the split narratives of a life “before” and “after.”

The Eyes of Writers

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The responsibility to organize what we see, to take the randomness of life and reconstruct it into a new form that has meaning, lies squarely with writers and other creative people (scientists and mathematicians alike).

Tacoma and the Stories We Leave Behind

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The video game Tacoma is a story about an empty space station where its depths aren’t something presented but searched for—on bookshelves and in bedrooms. Sometimes stories are with the things we leave behind.

Unripe Fruit in Rural Poland

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Through it all, Wiola is a clear-eyed tour guide narrator, blasting the reader with the harsh reality of her bildungsroman while simultaneously giving a close-up view of the isolated world she was born into.

Bruno Schulz and a Mother’s Tough Love

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Like many things in my life, the writer Bruno Schulz is an example of how I used to focus on men. Men’s troubles, men’s heartache, men’s surprising capacity for emotion. The sight of a man crying would put me in a state.

What’s Left

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Handled well, what’s left out can illuminate a narrative, create a kind of translucence through which each scene, each character is given a kind of mysterious importance.

Humor, Candor, & Collision in Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

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When I heard Chen read “Poplar Street” in a busy Washington, DC lunch spot, the whole farting bit elicited a variety of guffaws and cackles from his listeners. Their laughter sounded almost like barking. But Chen continued reading, and the rest of his couplet silenced the room.

On the Refreshing Awfulness of Elaine Dundy’s Protagonist in The Old Man and Me

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Having grown up feeling starved for complex female antiheroes in fiction, women I could actually fully relate to without having to overhaul my personality, morality, or entire appearance, the recent influx of interesting, complex female characters in popular culture has been revelatory.

Neil Gaiman’s “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” Shouldn’t Work

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Neil Gaiman’s “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” is a story that should not work. Gaiman states almost as much in the introduction to the collection, Smoke and Mirrors, that houses the story. It’s a story that meanders with almost no sense of plot. Yet, it works.