Critical Essays Archive

The Word as Souvenir in The Souvenir Museum

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Elizabeth McCracken’s stories do more than speak—they wink and flirt, make visual puns as though they are doing a skit together, improvising and seeing if they can get their stage partner to crack, while the reader, seeing the winks and the gestures, knows they are part of the show.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton’s Complication of the Gothic Voice

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Sara Collins’s 2019 novel tests and even breaks the boundaries of the gothic voice, showing that a heroine standing on the outside of literary tradition can still inhabit the gothic and push it to new and provocative directions.

The Chaotic Storm of Motherhood in Tomorrow We’ll Go to the Amusement Park

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Ilana Bernstein’s 2018 novel is a portrait of a motherhood so demanding and a depression so immersive that it becomes impossible to tell which came first. Throughout the book, the symptoms of the narrator’s different conditions, including being a mother, become indistinguishable from one another, her emotions bleeding into

The Ebb and Flow of Women’s Friendships in Fiona and Jane

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Jean Chen Ho’s wonderful debut is a book that is built on memory, a book that speaks to the importance and difficulties and richness of friendship between women over time, a book that braids its form and content together to create meaning.

Two Boston Commons at Twilight

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Susan Minot’s story “Boston Common at Twilight” shares its title with a Childe Hassam painting. Although the former does not directly mention the latter, there are many ways that the works are linked, and seeing these connections underscores the themes that run through the story and allows the viewer

The Angel in the Woods

Emily Dickinson knew that modesty and self-confidence, blended together, would disarm her reader and delight and mystify the people around her. Shirking conventionality offered her a modicum of freedom and enlarged her presence simultaneously; she was both eccentric spinster and white-clad angel, depending on how you saw her.

The Radical Politics of A Christmas Carol

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In 1843, Dickens read a report from the Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children and was horrified by its findings. He resolved to write “something to strike the heaviest blow in my power” on behalf of those he saw as the innocent victims of the Industrial

Beasts of a Little Land’s Exploration of Survival

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Juhea Kim’s debut novel tells about the years of Japanese rule in Korea—years of sometimes brutal oppression, starvation, and resistance—and its demise and aftermath. Through the novel’s omniscient third-person narrator, we see what each of these characters is willing to risk or sacrifice, whether for survival or some other

The Power of Sentences

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Louise Erdrich’s new novel is a persistent implicit commentary on the importance of words—and the communities forged by words—in the face of the traumas that haunt individual and collective lives.

The Singular Character of Tolstoy’s Alyosha

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Tolstoy’s treatment of Alyosha may cross over into objectification, but what makes Alyosha a singular character is the way in which he evades being objectified, something that can only be found when Alyosha’s feelings slip through how his father and master view and treat him.