Critical Essays Archive

The Failure of Familial Communication in Happiness, as Such

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Natalia Ginzburg presents a family’s dysfunction as an engrossing emotional rollercoaster, yet manages to make her story both haunting and deeply human.

Levity and Storytelling in A Christmas Carol

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With the indefinite article “a,” Dickens seems to declare that the story is not about a carol, but is, instead, itself a Christmas carol: a song for the season.

The Complicated Reality of Travel in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

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The stories of ZZ Packer’s 2003 collection often feature characters in new environments, struggling to navigate their changed surroundings; travel pervades the book, but its pieces refute fantasies in favor of more complex realities of what can happen on a journey.

Distance and Home

Writing, to me, is home. I grew up in a family of Cuban exiles. Every Sunday, they told stories about Cuba, a place I couldn’t touch or hear or smell, but that I could, at least in my mind, see. Writing forced me to look closer at these homes,

Lying to Tell the Truth

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Philippe Besson clearly wants to discourage his readers from mistaking his novelistic creation for straightforward autobiography. Equally, though, Besson prompts us to question our assumptions, to pay attention not only to the fictiveness of his novel, but also to the narrative quality of our own life stories.

Reading A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia

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I did not know before encountering this anthology’s opening fact that the eastern cougar, “puma, mountain lion, wildcat, catamount, painter, mountain screamer, in all its many names,” had been declared extinct in 2018 from where I am from. This caught a latch in my throat, lighter to such knowledge’s

Italo Calvino and the New Gods of Boston

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The visibility or invisibility of a city’s parts is always in flux, but this year it was dizzying. In March and April, Boston felt like a ghost town—its trains, streets, and office buildings emptied. The students disappeared, and so did my neighbor, Gary, who didn’t have a home to

Emptiness and Red Pill

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Discovering emptiness within himself while far from home, the unnamed narrator of Hari Kunzru’s latest novel falls under the influence of a champion of the alt-right and awakens—it seems—to a brutal reality. But this understanding of reality, too, turns out to be partial, provisional.

Tokyo Ueno Station’s Anti-Stereotypical Portrayal of Homelessness

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Yu Miri directly tackles homelessness in Japan in her 2014 novel, focusing on the memories and reflections of the ghost of a homeless migrant manual laborer, Kazu, as he wanders through the titular park, which had been his home.

Prospero the Homeschool Teacher

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Even to an erudite mage like Shakespeare’s Prospero, Miranda’s mind is mysterious and powerful, her memory evocative of her individual, autonomous character. He’s done his best to teach her, despite the circumstances, but no teacher can say with certainty what a student will remember and what will be forgotten.