Critical Essays Archive

The Idiot and the Betrayal of Language

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Elif Batuman’s protagonist wants to trust language, but language is inherently dishonest, a fractured mirror that never accurately reflects what really is. Trust it too much and it will leave you feeling betrayed.

Becoming an Art Monster

“Of course pretending to be a regular girl is monstrous—as monstrous as not writing, and as monstrous as being a mother who takes some time to herself to write, as I am doing now.”

The Riddles of the Green Man and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Green is “of this earth.” It is life and death at once, looking down at us from the rafters and blooming in our veins.

Toad and a Woman’s Desire

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“What I want to read about these days is women who want things. Katherine Dunn’s posthumously released novel is the most appetite-driven book I’ve read in quite some time.”

Hanne Darboven’s Exploration of Time

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“As we leave the end of one year and begin another, I am thinking about time: the threatened loss of the present, the ways in which we necessarily inscribe ourselves into history, and writing not as a forgetting, but a remembering.”

Death and Photography in Ramona Emerson’s Shutter

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Photography has consistently served as both an expression of the spiritual and the documentation of truth. Ramona Emerson’s novel captures this range of photographic purpose. In her protagonist’s hands, photography serves as a form of forensic evidence, a connection to her Navajo identity, and what draws the dead to

A Line in the World’s Imaginings

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In Dorthe Nors’s imagined passages, truth emerges overtly. These imaginings create an embodied landscape lush with life, reverberating with echoes of voices, human and otherwise.

Juan Felipe Herrera’s Poetry for the People

Many of Juan Felipe Herrera’s poems are dedicated to those who have died tragically, victims of violence. Herrera has made the choice to try to engage with these acts of violence, and to act with love for the lives lost.

Manhattan Beach’s Portrayal of the Ocean

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In Jennifer Egan’s 2017 novel, the ocean invites characters to dream beyond the confines of their own lives, to become a true part of the world.

Finding the Self in Departure

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Leaving the boarding school world was terrifying and painful, but also felt like an act of daring—and it called to the fore other qualities of myself that felt hard to set down, even when I chafed under their burden.