Critical Essays Archive

Man on Trial

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In David Grossman’s award-winning novel A Horse Walks into a Bar, the narrator, a retired judge, describes one night in the life of the protagonist, Dovaleh, a stand-up comedian in his late fifties and his lost childhood friend.

Laurie Colwin and the Power of Domesticity

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In Laurie Colwin’s short story “The Lone Pilgrim,” the unnamed narrator describes her longing for the domestic lives of others: “Oh, domesticity! The wonder of dinner plates and cream pitchers…We domestic sensualists live in a state of longing, no matter how comfortable your own places are.” What the narrator

Abiding Cruelty in Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things

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Translated from German into English in 2015, Austrian author Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things presents domesticity and motherhood as intolerable, even unbearable, in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The Incantatory Effect of Repetition in Memoir

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Roxane Gay’s Hunger and Melissa Febos’s Abandon Me both deal with longing to be understood and fighting the instinct to try to disappear. Both also use repetition as a literary device to achieve a lyricism, rhythm, and resonance that build power.

Lady Bird and the Art of the In-Between

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Lady Bird tells a categorically un-special story. But as a coming-of-age narrative, the film is tasked with charting a course through that fearful space where childhood meets adulthood, or in this case, where girlhood meets womanhood.

Disappointment City: Roberto Arlt’s 1930 Trip to Rio de Janeiro

When I moved to Rio de Janeiro and read Arlt for the first time, I began to grasp that the distance between expectation and reality, between hope and disappointment, animates and haunts the experience of the outsider to a foreign country.

The Evolution of True Crime

Recent true crime memoirs written by women who have experienced unimaginable violence increasingly describe the sorts of events we cannot read from a comfortable remove.

Mary Cantwell Lived There

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“Other wives, most wives...they had, it seemed to me, certain tools I would never possess, the marital equivalent of street smarts,” Mary Cantwell wrote. “What was their secret? What did they know?”

Virginia Woolf and the Language of Trauma

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In reference to the sexual abuse Virginia Woolf endured by her half brothers, she once told her biographer Nigel Nicolson, “Nothing has really happened until it has been described.” This line stuck with me, especially after I’d been struggling with the words to tell the story of my rape.

Enchanted Prose: Lyrical Language as Strength in the Mythic Novel

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Mythopoeia, the making of myth, is primarily considered a genre reserved for writers of high fantasy (Tolkien coined the term). But to restrict mythopoeia to fantasy alone—to think of mythopoeia as a genre rather than a technique—is a disadvantage to realist writers, who then miss out on the advantages