Critical Essays Archive

Rereading Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

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I’ve long found personal resonance in Adrienne Rich’s description of the struggle to be home with young children while also seeking to do intellectual and creative work. What I didn’t expect in rereading her 1976 classic was how uncannily similar her descriptions of the mid-century institution of motherhood would

The Human Stories Behind Objects in The Nakano Thrift Shop

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Initially, the titular secondhand store seems to be the focus of Hiromi Kawakami’s 2005 novel. As the story progresses, however, it becomes increasingly clear that the shop is simply the backdrop for what Kawakami is actually interested in: the odd quirks of human interaction.

Bernadette Mayer’s Deconstructed Sonnets

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As formalism in poetry and the expectations around gender and family structure have evolved, so have poets’ treatment of it. Bernadette Mayer's 1989 collection repurposes the idea of the volta in experimental sonnets to demonstrate that clear resolution in life rarely exists, especially in matters of love and relationship.

Storytelling and Inherited Trauma in Of Women and Salt

As we read Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel, we come to understand that because of the trauma generations past experienced, stories get silenced, whether because the people involved die prematurely or because they are so traumatized that they hope that by silencing their stories they can stop their own pain—or

Contemplating Infinity

Hilary Leichter’s debut novel is a shifting, surrealist tale of a young woman’s search for permanent employment that deftly captures the anguish of living inside such existential uncertainty, and more terrifying, the potential infinity of it.

The Polyphony of The End of Vandalism

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Maybe the best argument for Tom Drury’s 1994 novel as a neglected classic—at least in contention with its dry comedy and quiet, then startling prose—is its panoramic and uniquely democratic examination of a veritable web of human stories.

Laurent Binet’s Alternate History of the Novel

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The elaborate counterfactuals of Binet’s newest novel, which contemplates a Spanish conquest in reverse, offer a recursive vision of history: you can swap out the protagonists, but the processes of social atomization and economic consolidation unleashed by globalization will propel us into the modern era regardless.

Villainy and Epiphany in Tales the Devil Told Me

The stories in Jen Fawkes’s latest collection, which tell the tales of literature’s most famous villains, don’t simply long to provide motivation for a character’s badness, but rather are united around people suffering from pervasive loneliness and longing for love—two human qualities anyone, villain or victim, could understand.

A Poem for Children

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The poet of Dan Chiasson’s poems is a father and a son, often both at the same time. The poet of Dan Chiasson’s poems, since his first collection was published in 2002, reveals more about himself, his being a father and a son, through the way his poems are

Cultish’s Exploration of Manipulative Language

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People are often mystified about how anyone could get involved in a cultish group, or may vaguely think that “brainwashing” was involved. Indeed, while we might feel safer if there were more esoteric or arcane tricks being used, Montell argues that cults bewitch followers exactly the same way that