Critical Essays Archive

Life and Death in Morgan Talty’s Night of the Living Rez

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The story of the destruction of one world has on its other side the generation of something new. It may not be a world fit for the living, but it is still a world—a new one, at that.

Zong! and the Financialization of the Black Body

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M. NourbeSe Philip makes it clear that the material body, personal identity, and non-dominant culture become sites of violence when they are submitted to totalizing modes of financialization. In her 2008 book of poetry, this violence is demonstrated in its most immediate and graphic form: chattel slavery.

Breaking Down “Medieval” Violence

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To understand what is “medieval” about particular forms of contemporary violence is not to understand a history of violence. It is, instead, to understand our own modern cruelty and our own deep discomfort with acknowledging it as ours.

Dreadful Sorry’s Exploration of American Nostalgia

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Dispelling the haze of American nostalgia matters, and Jennifer Niesslein shows how it can be done, particularly by those of us who are white—and that, after it is stripped of sentimentality, nostalgia can be a force that drives us to make a beloved place better.

Incomprehensible and Ungraspable

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“When I was a teacher, death always lingered in the back of my mind.”

Pioneer Days

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Willa Cather’s 1913 novel provides a vision of America that is at once familiar and completely foreign. As the novel revels in scenes of natural beauty and “simpler” times, it also warns us that such idealized visions of America were dangerous and violent all along.

Time’s Arrow and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Martin Amis’ 1991 novel is principally a story about ideology, but it is also a story about denial, and the lengths we will go to justify our own hateful actions.

Abstraction and Legacy in Bluebeard and So Much Blue

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In filling his 2017 novel with similarities to Kurt Vonnegut’s 1987 work, Percival Everett initiates a dialogue on abstract art.

Realism and the Weird in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story We Used to Tell”

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When read together, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s tale reveals the realism peeking behind the frame of Shirley Jackson’s, and Jackson’s short story illuminates the otherworldly horror plaguing the narrator of Perkins Gilman’s.

Isolation and The Wild Hunt

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Emma Seckel wields multiple strategies of constraint to expand her novel’s speculative possibilities and, most importantly, establish a thoroughly compelling set of character relationships that infuse the supernatural stakes with organic urgency.