Critical Essays Archive

More Than Lines in the Sand: Fifty Years of Desert Solitaire

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Fifty years ago, Edward Abbey could already see the trampling of industry on the fragile desert country he had grown to love during his time as a ranger in what is now Arches National Park.

Reading New York

In the New Yorks of Anne Roiphe’s and Vivian Gornick’s memoirs, isolation in an urban setting is a tired trope that neither Roiphe nor Gornick finds to fit her experiences.

Resonance, Dissonance, and the Iraq War

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This year marks fifteen years since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In Rachel Kushner’s and Lisa Halliday’s newest novels, the war lurks, ever present, in the background.

All That Remains: The Lasting Images of a William Trevor Story

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Excerpt: William Trevor almost always describes a character early in the story, using only a sentence or two, but getting at the essence of the character in a way that feels intimate and true. The descriptions are highly visual, often focusing on the face, but always gesturing towards characterization.

A Valentine to the Best American Poetry 1993

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Before social media helped readers discover poetry, the world seemed smaller. In the early 90s, when I was a preteen starting to figure out that not all great poets were dead, I had little to go on.

The Cocoon and the Vista: Rebecca Solnit and Czeslaw Milosz on Vastness

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Both Solnit and Milosz transform picturesque vistas into fully alive places on the page. Their methods are instructive not only for writing about place, but as tools for toggling between any set of Big Questions and the particulars of moving as a body through streets.

Writing Trauma and Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages

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Two adjacent poems in Tarfia Faizullah’s new collection reckon with the ways in which others—readers, peers, and perhaps mentors—respond to and even challenge the traumatic subjects about which a poet writes.

The Sheltering Sky and the Traveling American

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The tourists, travelers, and colonial police of The Sheltering Sky are mostly disaffected and unmoored Westerners who see their time in Algeria as temporary. The protagonist defines a tourist as someone who “generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months.”

Leonora Carrington’s Surrealist Revolution

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Carrington’s novel seeks to upend retrograde Surrealist tropes about women. But rather than portraying a more typical feminist utopia in which women reign supreme, the novel aims to create a gender-neutral world that embodies a very different Surrealist ideal: pneuma.

Quiet Resistance in Yiyun Li’s “A Flawless Silence”

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In Yiyun Li’s short story “A Flawless Silence” from The New Yorker, the main character Min is in a relationship where she does not feel completely safe standing up to her husband. But, as the reader sees, Min often uses silence to her advantage.