Critical Essays Archive

Curiosity in Carola Dibbell’s The Only Ones

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While the protagonist of Carola Dibbell’s 2015 novel appears to be the perfect object of scientific research, the character’s actions reveal an attempt at garnering agency through her own curiosity in the scientific process.

Heather Christle’s Portrait of Crying

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Heather Christle’s 2019 book is a beautiful study of one of humanity’s most universal experiences, its fragments acting as tear drops that, when collected, turn it into one very good, very emotional cry.

Opus Posthumous

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Tony Hoagland’s posthumously published collection makes clear that what one will do—has done—with their life, how a life will be remembered, how a volume of poems or the work completed throughout a lifetime once was, will turn out, will be received—all of these are unknowable.

The Slippery Reality of Bliss Montage

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Ling Ma’s stories seem to ask us to take a pause from thinking about both the future and the past, to settle down into the whirl of the montage, and maybe even enjoy it.

Tana French’s Investigation of Self and Home

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“Since late summer, I’ve been reading Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels for the first time, and what fascinates me about them is the relationship between self and place—specifically self and home—French’s novels explore.”

#!’s Code Poetics

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The essence of anything lies in its temporal existence, and because everything is temporal, nothing is the same; the thing itself changes over time. Nick Montfort encourages his readers to investigate and reinvestigate the poems in his 2014 collection because the ground here is always shifting.

Charles W. Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars’ Black Medievalism

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Limiting the scope of medievalism to white narratives, characters, and authorship keeps us from seeing the far more creative and capacious sets of stories that medievalism might tell. That it has, in fact, already told.

Lucy by the Sea’s Pandemic Year

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It seems—for Lucy, and perhaps for Elizabeth Strout herself, and perhaps for us all—that community is the thing that will help us get through to the end.

Liv Ullmann’s Changing and Childhood Memories

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Watching her daughter struggle through the emotions, excitements, and inequities of childhood seems to bring to mind Liv Ullmann’s own painful childhood, punctuated by her father’s untimely death and his family’s disownment of herself and her mother.

Making Space

Moving exposes the true quantity of our stuff: there’s too much. And what story do these objects, and the way in which they inhabit space, tell? Our possessions tell the stories of our changing bodies, our relationships, our jobs, the pandemic, the hobbies we’ve given up on, our privilege.