Critical Essays Archive

The Embodied Narrator in How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

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Clint Smith’s new book is an examination of memory through an examination of sites that represent our country’s collective memory of slavery. He makes an important and effective call for us to examine how we remember our past, and how central our historical memory is to our existence today.

Gender and the Body in Breasts and Eggs, The Collection, and The Iliac Crest

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Around the world, woman novelists are refocusing narratives about desire, sex, and the body around their own experiences. Some of their stories explore society’s current hang-ups around women’s bodies, some paint a picture of a potential world full of guilt-free pleasure, and some explode the idea of gender determined

The Pursuit of Love’s Rejection of Romance

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Nancy Mitford’s tragicomic novel demonstrates the unglamorous acts of love that come from sustained, tested friendships, and it’s from these relationships that the book mines much of its celebrated humor and its overlooked, but just as important, compassion.

Reading Deesha Philyaw’s “Peach Cobbler”

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In “Peach Cobbler,” Deesha Philyaw manages a long stretch of time by tracking her protagonist’s relationship to an object. Writing sensually about peach cobbler, Philyaw draws the reader into the story: we are there, smelling the peaches and sugar and cinnamon, as Olivia develops from a girl into a

The Biopolitical Body of Convenience Store Woman

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Throughout Sayaka Murata’s 2016 novel, the protagonist presents herself as an object of the convenience store that employs her. But the implied morality of the book suggests that this state of bodily control to which she willingly subjects herself may not be as simple as either oppression or free

A Woman’s Conviction in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 500 Days of Summer

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Summer, Helena, and Hermia hold fast to their own definitions of love, even in the face of men who refuse and ignore them.

Lapvona’s Christian Narrative

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For the people of Lapvona, the fictional Middle Ages village of Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel, religiosity is less an articulation of faith or devotion and more of narrative concern. The central questions of faith are simply questions of what everything adds up to.

Queer Desire and the Myth of Iphis

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Queerness offers a way into unknowing some of the rigid boundaries we have inherited around what sex should be and what gender is. It can ask us to privilege pleasure and intimacy in our own desires. As in John Gower’s Iphis, queerness is a sort of stepping into the

Also a Poet’s Exploration of Not Being There

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It can be astonishing to learn how different our loved ones were when we weren’t around to know them. It can feel like a personal connection is lost, or that the person we know in the present is somehow incomplete.

Objects for Piano’s Exploration of Poetry and Music

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The poet, avant-garde musician, and dramatist Russell Atkins plays with the parallel and incongruency between poetry and music by reframing their primary functions, focusing not on their sonic qualities but instead on their visual construction, the quality that is effaced during performance.