Critical Essays Archive

“Adventure of a Skier” and Calvino’s Theory of Lightness

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Last week, the New Yorker released the first English translation of Italo Calvino’s “The Adventure of a Skier,” which first appeared in the 1970 short story collection Difficult Loves. How does this “new” story fit into the themes and philosophical musings of the work as a whole?

A Shining City on a Very Strange Hill

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The idea that there is something unique, something exceptional about America, dates back to de Tocqueville and has firmly taken root in the nation’s literary and political imagination.

Elisa Albert’s After Birth and Getting My Body Back

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Why did nobody tell me it would be this way? Elisa Albert’s narrator, Ari, seems to be asking throughout the novel After Birth. And why is no one around to help me through it now?

The Body Enchanted: Helen Oyeyemi and Consent

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In core childhood narratives, elements of magic constantly compromise the bodily autonomy of women, from the prick of your finger on an enchanted spinning wheel to the loss of your voice in exchange for legs. I approached What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours with this narrative baggage in

“Heat and Rage and the Sweet Stink of Broken Flowers”: Place Informs Character in Bastard out of Carolina

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In Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina, home is both cultivated and destroyed alongside characters that hold landscape against their bodies. Home is a beating heart. It’s a branding. Like the hungry, tenacious families Allison creates, her landscapes are just as alive and wanting.

The Real Surrealism of Robert Desnos

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Excommunicated from the movement by Andre Breton, Desnos is at once an artist who troubles the traditional narrative of surrealism and who embodies most wholly some of its most important tenets.

On Accidental Books

Books, even books writers didn’t know they were writing, are born from discipline, by people who took their ideas seriously, even before they amounted to anything.

What Is Poetry?

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The question arises often in bookstore readings and writing workshops, cultural commentary and book clubs, and yet the answers remain slippery and incomplete, sometimes biased toward a particular aesthetic, other times umbrella-ed into compromising vagaries, all of which equally frustrate the long-haul poet and the beginning reader.

Iconography of a Disaster: Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl

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Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, about the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, opens with Lyudmilla Ignatenko, whose husband Vasily was one of the first firefighters to respond to the scene.

Plenty of Pride & No Prejudice?

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A while ago, while browsing the local Barnes & Noble, a friend and I started discussing how we got into LGBTQ literature, and how much reading specifically queer authors had meant to us in times of turmoil, both personal and not. This was in the aftermath of the Orlando