Critical Essays Archive

Seeing Jenny in Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?

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The pleasure of reading Jenny Diski’s essays is in spending time with her persona—opinionated, funny, and endlessly curious. How can there be an end in wanting to know about Diski, her subjects, or any other example of what it is to be a human in this world?

Women Mentoring Women in Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan

Sigrid Nunez’s memoir of the author’s relationship with Susan Sontag, the writer and doyenne of the twentieth-century New York intelligentsia, plays with the concept of the memoir genre. Nunez largely disappears from her own pages as she explains, through vignettes and remembered lines, Sontag’s mentorship.

Elizabeth Bishop’s Eczema

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Writing about Elizabeth Bishop, one hesitates over how much time to spend on biography. Readers are now familiar with many of her biographical details, though she was long known for not being known. But what about her eczema, the first of three lifelong conditions to develop and which quite

How Do You Fictionalize the Experience of Social Media?

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Lauren Oyler’s debut novel is an audacious, mordant, and frequently hilarious sendup of internet culture at the turn of the decade, and a likely harbinger of how books about the internet will read in years to come.

Our Lady of the Floss

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Never losing sight of the sensibilities that make the protagonist of her 1860 novel fallibly, achingly human, George Eliot also venerates Maggie Tulliver’s passions and feelings, suggesting that the path to virtue may not lie in rigidity and conventional moralism, but in the volatile, messy outpourings of the human

Food and Identity in First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-American Home

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Though Frankie Gaw’s debut book is ostensibly a cookbook, it’s also an archive of the Taiwanese American experience and an earnest exploration of the many facets of the author’s identity.

The Foreboding Landscape in The Impudent Ones

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In her debut novel, Marguerite Duras builds a visceral sense of foreboding through the beautiful and unnerving landscapes in the life of protagonist Maud Grant, who is both captivated by the land around her, and often swiftly shut off from it.

Gender Euphoria in Frankissstein

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Contrary to the arguments made for the total disembodiment of humanity through digital consciousness, the protagonist in Jeanette Winterson’s 2019 novel presents a striking argument for remaining in human bodies: gender euphoria.

Birds as Metaphor in Birds of Maine and Big Questions

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What Michael DeForge and Anders Nilsen have managed to do is highlight some of humanity’s best traits—and reflect them back to us through the use of these flighty, flittering creatures. Life is beautiful, they seem to be pleading. Take a moment to look at things from a different perspective.

Hurricane Diane’s Exploration of Discomfort, Capitalism, and Our Climate Crisis

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Madeline George's 2017 play lays bare a difficult reality: that any meaningful action on climate change will be uncomfortable, that it's dangerous to avoid discomfort, and that there are many for whom comfort is the only thing they can cling to in the boxed in world of late capitalism.