Critical Essays Archive

The Repetition and Accretion of Violence

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Three recent books by poets Valzhyna Mort, Eduardo C. Corral, and Claudia Rankine examine state violence by using violence’s signatures––repetition and accretion––as tools within the text. In these works, post-Chernobyl Belarus, barren American border landscapes, and the minefields of everyday social interactions are scrutinized, again and again.

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.

The Stories Inherited in Speak, Okinawa

Elizabeth Miki Brina traces the stories of her mother and father and delves into the relationships between their homes to examine her inheritances and figure out how they’ve manifested within her.

In the Company of Men’s Long View of History

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To take the long view of history is to find company with our ancestors. In Véronique Tadjo’s 2017 novel, available today in English, it is “Baobab, the first tree, the everlasting tree, the totem tree” that sees humanity from this perspective.

On Be Holding

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Ross Gay’s book-length poem suggests that within the horror show of objectified Black pain and the not-finished history of stolen Black bodies, the answer is a community that holds each other with care and beholds in Black lives not just suffering but life, dignity, complexity—and joy.

The Power of the Vignette in Mrs. Bridge

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Evan S. Connell’s 1959 novel is composed of 117 neat vignettes that function in several ways: as a social critique of the era’s lust for conformity, as an aesthetic choice representing the psychology of his protagonist, and as an attempt to explicate time's relationship to a forward-looking, consumptive lifestyle.

The Limits of Social Media in No One Is Talking About This

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Patricia Lockwood’s first novel, out today, is unnervingly not hyperbolic in its lyric, humorous rendering of our social media obsessed world.

Love, the Archive

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If you have ever broken up with someone or been broken up with, you have likely experienced that unique quality of love: its archive. Laurie Colwin’s 1986 collection describes this lonely archive, its characters turning their love over in an occasion of happiness and sadness alike.

Two Contemporary Retellings of The Playboy of the Western World

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John Millington Synge’s 1907 play is now a classic, examining, among other elements, the definition of a hero and the role of the community in that definition. Over a hundred years later, two contemporary novels, both set following the 2008 financial crisis, echo it in numerous ways.

The Creation, Innovation, and Evolution of Early Anti-Racism Writing

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Olaudah Equiano’s genre-defining slave narrative is at once an adventure novel, bildungsroman, and a conversion story. Each of these forms contributes to his argument for the abolishment of slavery, and his creation of this literary framework is the origin to which today’s anti-racism writing can be traced.