Critical Essays Archive

Samanta Schweblin’s Experiments in Agency

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Schweblin's voyeuristic robots and continuously shifting perspective guides us through an extended meditation on personal agency that is both bleeding edge and timeless: when do we defend and when do we willfully forfeit our autonomy? How is it taken from us and how do we erase it from others?

Herman Melville and the Desolation of Solitude

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I’d never felt the urgency to see Arrowhead, Melville’s historic home in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, but suddenly robbed of my own social life, it was time for me to go and see why a writer, like Melville, would actually ask for such isolation.

The Dawn of the Queer Ecological Novel

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The need for a queer ecological novel is increasingly apparent, as it becomes difficult to imagine any story, any life, unaffected by the reality of climate change.

Complicating the Domestic

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In this moment, it’s difficult to view any domestic arrangement without its undercurrent of uncertainty or instability. Two poems written in a fairy-tale register—Jane Hirshfield’s “Amor Fati” and Kiki Petrosino’s “Nursery”—capture this sense of pervasive menace, and complicate the idea of home as the ultimate refuge from a threatening

Hybridity and Indigenous Identity in the Work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

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Betasamosake’s work exemplifies the brilliant possibilities of hybrid forms. Hybridity in genre allows Indigenous literature the freedom to shape-shift, to tell a story the best way it can be told, and to let that story live among its relatives, whether they be short story, memoir, or song.

The Colonizer and The Ghost

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Museums are filled with ghosts, if “ghost” is just another word for “longing.” Their collections typify our desire for possession, which, as poet and essayist Mary Ruefle would argue, is a “sickness”—the “world’s greatest sickness on earth,” in fact.

Memory and Selfhood in Confessions

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In his remarkable 2008 novella, Rabee Jaber merges the cinematic image and affective response to investigate the paradox of memory and imagination, the polarization of Beirut, and the irretrievably fractured sense of self left behind by the thousands of disappeared civilians during the Lebanese Civil War.

Good Morning, Midnight and the Failure of Our Daily “Programs”

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Reading Jean Rhys’s 1939 novel, I soon landed on the lazy word unlikeable to describe its protagonist. The moment the word arose in my mind, I was suspicious, but I found Sasha’s inability to make a place for herself in the world, even on the margins, exasperating.

Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes

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Guzel Yakhina’s 2015 novel is both a satisfying work of historical fiction as well as a moving portrait of a difficult period. Its most surprising element is also its most paradoxical. Perhaps in spite of Yakhina’s intentions, it posits a woman whose life is expanded and even enriched while

Reading, the Collective, and the Formation of the Self

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Yiyun Li transcends the individual through the way she focuses so singularly on the I, moments of aloneness, and solitary memories, rather than on feelings she has from shared memories. Yu Hua, too, transcends the individual, though he does so by offering his experience as a way of representing