Critical Essays Archive

Searching for an American Epistemology in Lost in Summerland

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Barrett Swanson’s essays rigorously interrogate the intersection between capitalism, masculinity, and the “gnawing sense of purposelessness” pervasive in our country’s psyche, while also adding an undeniable empathetic and interpersonal dimension that satisfies a reader’s desire for emotionally specific narrative intrigue.

The Persona as a Portal in The January Children

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In Safia Elhillo’s 2017 poetry collection, both the historical figure of Abdelhalim Hafez and his personification seem to serve as an umbilical cord connecting the speaker to her heritage as she navigates the trauma of immigration.

The Dark Depths of Motherhood in Love Me Back

Merritt Tierce’s 2014 novel is a beautiful and honest portrait of a young mother. It is also dark and disturbing, and is as much about punishment as it is about motherhood, and how the two intertwine.

Decoding the Silences in Corregidora

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Gayl Jones’s 1975 book positions language as an apparatus of control and power, a weapon used to continue cycles of oppression. It contends that silence—both literal and metaphorical—can create a future untainted by the past.

The Bass Rock’s Layered Use of Setting

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The use of place in Evie Wyld’s third novel underscores the constant nature of violence against women—that unchanging and immoveable landscape—and yet the capacity for women to band together in order to fight back shows that there may, indeed, be better days ahead.

Fragmentation and The Narrow Road to the Interior

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Kimiko Hahn’s 2006 poetry collection not only demonstrates the non-linear zuihitsu’s possibilities for relaying personal story, but also includes her meta-musings on genre and fragmentation itself, especially in terms of how “complete incompleteness” might serve as a haven for women artists—such subversions interrupt power, upset façade, and invite truth-telling.

A Family of Strangers in The Arsonists’ City

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Behind the straightforward family disagreement that underpins Hala Alyan’s new novel lies all the complications, subtleties, and dishonesties upon which families are founded, along with the fears, longings, and displacement more particular to immigrant households.

The Maternal Vision of Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson

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In the earliest years of parenting, the tensions between motherhood and artistic practice can feel insurmountable. Yet there are ways in which motherhood and the writing life are uniquely compatible.

The Many Narrative Layers of White Magic

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In her new collection, out this week, Elissa Washuta builds essays that repudiate traditional structures, layering her own stories on existing forms as a means to examine the traumatic, defining moments of her life.

The Reanimating Power of Epistolary Poetry

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Poetry is the process of happening, its reanimating force something experienced each time a poem is read in our heads, aloud, privately, or to others. The best poems—Rachel Mennies’s and Sumita Chakraborty’s poems—are made with such specificity, such unmistakable architecture, that hearing them is this experience, this happening.