Critical Essays Archive

The Garbage of Our Time

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A. R. Ammons's 1993 book-length poem, a meditation on excess and waste as the defining trait of our species, anticipated the worst conversations one wishes were avoidable: climate change and a non-hyperbolic global destruction.

John Winthrop, Don Quixote, and Donald Trump’s “Fake News”

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Far from being un-American, Trump’s deployment of the “illusory truth effect” is supremely so. Indeed, it is in lock step with the shady rhetorical strategies employed by Trump’s Puritan forbearer John Winthrop. Like Trump, Winthrop’s hustle depended upon his followers seeing what they actually couldn’t, and unseeing what was

The Anxiety of Middle-Age in Welcome to Sonnetville, New Jersey

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Craig Morgan Teicher’s newest collection is preoccupied with the anxiety of being understood, and the way that desperation pulses underneath what is explicitly spoken.

The Foreboding Landscape in The Impudent Ones

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In her debut novel, Marguerite Duras builds a visceral sense of foreboding through the beautiful and unnerving landscapes in the life of protagonist Maud Grant, who is both captivated by the land around her, and often swiftly shut off from it.

Mapmaking and Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry

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Joy Harjo’s signature project as the twenty-third U.S. Poet Laureate is one of mapmaking: gathering poems by forty-seven Native Nations poets in a cartography of voice. This poetic map acknowledges other maps of colonial violence and erasure, and while poetry can offer no full answer to the pain, it

A Small Place and the Attempts to Ban Critical Race Theory

There is a key part of A Small Place in which Kincaid writes about how people like her, who come from colonized homes, struggle with their past. “Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget?” she asks.

Making Men and Myths in Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller

Storytelling is foundational to our concept of ourselves, with personal narratives—those we speak aloud and those we tell to only ourselves—defining the shape of our lives and casting us in various roles as circumstances demand: champion or victim, villain or avenger.

The Monolithic, Unforgiving Group Narrator

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“A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner, and “The Little Widow from the Capital,” by Yohanca Delgado, both feature the first-person-plural point of view. In both stories, the group narrator is insular, one-directional, one-dimensional, monolithic, and unforgiving in judging a woman.

The Parallel Narrative Arc in Memorial

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In Bryan Washington’s first novel, photos are used, in part, to consider how we use images to communicate. They also work together to create a narrative arc that echoes the arc of the book itself.

Authorship and Betrayal in To Write As If Already Dead

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Given its fragmented structure, intertextuality, quotations from and reflections on correspondences, and inclusion of the narrative of a pregnancy, Kate Zambreno’s newest book feels like a “library of the mind,” encompassing texts on reading, writing, authorship, friendship, betrayal, the body, birth, and death.