Critical Essays Archive

The Age Gap in 19th Century Literature

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Mona Chalabi's op-ed for the NYTimes states that as women age, they examine the dating profiles of their contemporaries, while men, no matter their ages, peruse photos of women in their early 20’s.

To Trope or Not to Trope

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In early creative writing classes, we’re often told to avoid tropes, told that they’ll make our writing cliché. It’s good advice for writers just beginning their craft, but it’s not sound advice for an entire career.

Netflix’s New Joan Didion Documentary Speaks to Pain and Memory

I cannot watch a documentary about Joan Didion impartially any more than her nephew, Griffin Dunne, could make an impartial film about his legendary aunt. To say that Didion, now 82, has had an impact on me is an understatement.

Defiant Witches & Deceitful Echoes: Reading Katherine Anne Porter’s Poetry

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Poetry was never Katherine Anne Porter’s central pursuit: as Darlene Harbour Unrue notes in her introduction to Katherine Anne Porter’s Poetry, Porter was “never a first-rate poet, by her own admission.” But the pieces within are hypnotic—Porter’s distinctive and authoritative speakers conjure vast worlds in small spaces.

Carmen Machado and the Corporeal Text

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Carmen Machado weaves together textuality, orality, and corporeality in her brilliant short story collection Her Body and Other Parties.

Main Street

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Main Street holds an unusual place in my bookish heart: it is one of those novels that I love, but rarely recommend. It is dull. But listen—its dullness is part of its charm.

Raymond Carver, Gordon Lish, and the Editor as Enabler

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As the story goes, most of what American readers love about Raymond Carver is not the work of Carver at all.

How Do We Decide What to Read?

There are too many beloved books and not enough prizes, and somehow they get lost underneath all the news about the really important books that I should be reading.

Splintered Selves and Sexual Abuse in Dorothy Nelson’s In Night’s City

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Set in 1970s Ireland, Dorothy Nelson’s In Night’s City is an obscure, deceptively slim book. Unofficial predecessor to Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, the novel charts Sara’s attempts to assimilate sexual abuse, suffering, and shame.

A Small-Town Coming Out in an Online World

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The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves starts, like many books set in a small town, with a homecoming.