Critical Essays Archive

The Woman in The Woman in the Dunes

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Kobo Abe’s 1962 novel delineates one man’s experience of unjust capture and imprisonment, and the shifting lines between purpose and absurdity that experience foregrounds. Taken as a purely existential novel, the centrality of this figure and his experience can easily remain unchallenged. Yet, he isn’t alone in his imprisonment.

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.

Growing Something from Ash

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Perhaps I had been waiting for exuberance. Perhaps, the former version of myself, before the loss, expected only ecstatic experiences to unfasten me from sorrow. Does time change me, or the attention to life? Perhaps both. Both have borne hope.

Delusion and Reality in Earthlings

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Sayaka Murata’s latest novel to be translated into English explores the way individuals try to move through a world that, ultimately, doesn’t make sense.

What’s the Point: How Sherman Alexie, Ross Gay, and Tommy Pico Write About Pain

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A few weeks after the release of his memoir, Sherman Alexie cancelled the second half of his national book tour. “I have been rebreaking my heart night after night,” he explained. Writing about pain had become a process of inflicting it on himself.

Death as the Villain in Pet Sematary

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Beneath the waking nightmares, reanimated children, and mythological Wendigo, Stephen King’s 1983 novel is about a fundamental and universal experience: grief and the fear of death.

The Morning Star and Endings

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Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new work compels readers to pay attention to the dissolution of animal life and our reliance on it, to the ends of relationships, to the shortness of the human life span, and to the book’s own looming narrative endpoint. In this novel, all things have an

The True Cost of Labor

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It is well understood by now the heavy toll that coal mining takes on geographic landscapes, their local populations, and the climate, despite practices of environmental remediation. There is also, however, another toll that mining takes—that all labor takes—on our individual bodies and lives.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head’s Language of the Body

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Via the body, Warsan Shire wrenches us into sensuous and traumatic narratives that express hunger for love, rage at violation, the turmoil of illness, and an exquisite wish for restoration.

The Entanglement of Church and Family in Revival Season

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Monica West's debut novel exposes the inevitable risks and losses that come along with disentanglement from family and church structures. Her protagonist's strength, coming-into-power, and voice are compelling, but they are costly.