Critical Essays Archive

In Remembrance of Brian Doyle

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When the prolific author Brian Doyle passed away last month, American Letters lost not only a talented writer in Doyle, but also a waning parochial worldview.

The Poet and the News

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More than ever, I seem to imbibe the news, allow it to become a part of me, choke my obsessive subconscious like invasive kudzu. No wonder then that I feel tempted to write about these events and their consequences.

Female Eroticism in The Wallcreeper and The Argonauts

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What’s missing in the literary world, especially when it comes to women, is a dialogue around anal sex.

Take a Turn for the Worse: How We Write About Ghosts and “Goneness”

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Every good ghost story has a volta, a point at which the narrative dramatically changes, and reality turns toward paranormal chaos. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

A Poem to Face the End of the World: Adam Zagajewski’s “To Go to Lvov”

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Adam Zagajewski's "To Go to Lvov" is an elegy for a world, a family, a time, that will never return, but is chronicled with such fevered longing, such attentive encapsulation, that it somehow lives on.

Do Readers Dream of Electric Futures?

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Why has Philip K. Dick, author of the novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, continued to be read through the decades? Why has he continued to be a touchstone—with his stories and novels consistently being turned into films?

Examining Our American Disillusion With Alberto Fuguet

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I’ve been thinking too much about reality entertainment lately. It was inevitable that I would find myself reading Alberto Fuguet’s The Movies of My Life this summer, and I’ve been wondering: how does a country cope with disillusion? Or rather, how does a person deal with its dissolution?

The Varying Feelings of Jesus’ Son

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Perhaps, in connecting the song’s teachings of drug struggles from the ’60s with those of the book and films of the ’90s, both similarities and differences across these platforms can provide intake on why the opioid epidemic either comes in waves, or never truly leaves.

What Is a Story Before It Becomes Words?: Lynda Barry’s What It Is

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What It Is is expressionistic and difficult. Before the techniques are imparted (and they are, eventually) Lynda Barry spends more than one hundred pages blending comic panels, short passages of autobiography, and gorgeous, bizarre full page collages that explore the fundamentals of craft and creativity.

Attention Span Training for Book Lovers

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The internet giveth and it taketh away. What it gives readers is legion. What the internet contributes to taking away, however, is the ability to concentrate.