Critical Essays Archive

Novels Where the Digressions Are Half the Point

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Of all the reasons to read a novel, plot tends to be the most compelling. Yet atmosphere, ideas, humor, the construction of a well-turned-out sentence--all these are also incentives to keep turning pages.

What is a Foreigner?

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There are few more cutting words in a language you don’t speak fluently than the word foreigner. In Greek the word, xenos, bites into your skin, pins you down into the character of the other, even though at its simplest form it means to not be of the place.

Negotiating Religiosity in Tomaz Salamun’s “Ships”

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I was driving the first time I heard Tomaz Salamun’s poem “Ships” on Poetry off the Shelf, the Poetry Foundation’s podcast. I didn’t have the chance to glance at the poem’s first line, “I’m religious,” and decide whether or not to read it.

Stranger Stories: Storytelling and Dungeons & Dragons

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It’s always fascinated me, this seemingly inescapable impulse we have to turn events into stories, even when we don’t necessarily think we have storytelling abilities. Storytelling has always been crucial to human nature, or so we’re told.

Notes on Longing

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Longing—the menace of love, or the loss of it—is not so unlike Adrienne Rich’s description of reading a poem: “prismatic meanings lit by each others’ light.” It’s the hope that someone activates in us something that has been a mystery even to ourselves.

Reexamining the American Road Trip in Kentucky Route Zero

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The road trip has maybe always been considered a staple of “Americana.” The wide spaces, the hum of the engine, and quiet retrospection were thought to be essential characters to these stories. Kentucky Route Zero re-centers that notion.

Rethinking the Strong Female Character

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In What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah explores new ways of thinking about the "strong female character" through her experimental narratives.

Life as Sisyphean Sport in Anelise Chen’s So Many Olympic Exertions

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So Many Olympic Exertions shows the limits of living life like a game.

The Effluvia of Short Fiction

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By utilizing various forms of “effluvia” in their work, Amelia Gray, Alexandra Kleeman, and Helen Oyeyemi give us greater insight into the human condition. They show us why shit matters.

The Reckless Romanticism of Mary Wollstonecraft

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The collected letters Mary Wollstonecraft wrote to Gilbert Imlay from 1791 to 1795 are not as widely read as her political and travel writings. Still, they offer precious glimpses of a lively, intellectual eighteenth-century woman in the midst of heartbreak, pregnancy, motherhood, and a blooming writing career.