Critical Essays Archive

Richie Hofmann’s Ekphrastic Poetry

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It is commonplace wisdom that our enduring ekphrastic poems do not merely transcribe or represent their source material. Like all poems, they enact an experience for their readers. This particular experience happens to be guided by one’s own transformation while encountering a visual work of art.

Lydia Millet’s Biblical Climate Apocalypse

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The coming climate apocalypse is an unsubtle thing. By couching it in a familiar structure, Lydia Millet invites us to grapple not with plot intricacies but with the very real grief over our own imminent loss—and, once the grief has subsided, to envision a world beyond the fall.

The Search for Home in Away to Stay

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Mary Kuryla’s debut is a coming-of-age novel, a story about a girl slowly finding her way—though in this case, the narrative is turned upside down: Olya finds a home rather than leaves one.

Place and Character in True Grit

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Charles Portis’s 1968 novel demonstrates how a story’s setting can be inextricably linked to its other elements: it would be hard to imagine Mattie and Rooster anywhere but the Arkansas “borderlands.”

The Meaning of Parenting in Alistair MacLeod’s “The Boat”

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We are often blind to the disparity between the behavior we instruct and the behavior we model for our children. But even more nuanced are the differences between the behaviors we try to emphasize—our aspirational behaviors—and the ones we try to downplay, which are often even more prominent.

In Defense of Comfort

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Two “women’s” novels by Stella Gibbons and Dodie Smith, from 1932 and 1948 respectively, quietly pose the suggestion that to be concerned with comfort is not shallow, but merely practical, and that taking control of your surroundings, either forcefully or with empathy, can lead to self-actualization.

Women’s Rage

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Claire-Louise Bennett’s new novel stirs up all the women in literature who have been sealing their anger away, letting it churn undisturbed at the center of themselves.

Memory and Transformation in Aurelia, Aurélia

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Kathryn Davis’s new memoir explores memory as something formative—something that begins as a static point then transitions into something alive, yielding something new, remembering becoming an experience in its own right.

Solmaz Sharif’s Look and the Reclamation of the Stories of Those Redacted and Erased

While Solmaz Sharif’s poems tackle large subjects that concern large populaces, you can also see the power of the personal in her work. In fact, it is her personal journey that makes her 2016 collection universal: the closer you get to a subject, the more universal it becomes.

The Homo Sacer Figure and The Time Traveler’s Wife

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While Giorgio Agamben notes many modern examples of his homo sacer figure, another can be found in Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel, via her reluctant time traveler, Henry.