Critical Essays Archive

The Secret History’s Fates, Allusions, and Tragedies

The frequent classical references provide narrative structure as things go from bad to worse. By making the characters classicists, Tartt lets us in on the trick, that this novel is, in essence, a modern day Greek tragedy.

Finding the Words to Speak of War

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Pamela Hart’s latest poetry collection asks: for all that is undisclosed in the context of war, what can be spoken, and how well can the spoken encompass what war does to families and communities?

Speaking Against Silence

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Much like 2018’s pop feminist anthems, the speaker of Louise Glück’s “Mock Orange” makes an analogy between the scent of mock orange flowers and the “false union” of sexual intercourse to suggest that her true sexual experiences reflect objectification and domination rather than genuine pleasure.

Female Prisoners in Emily Brontë’s Gondal Poems

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Emily Brontë’s attraction to images and metaphors of imprisonment are fueled by historical precedent and romantic inclination, especially by way of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Don Quixote or the Dangers of Reading Badly

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Again and again the story of Don Quixote shows that idealism untethered from reality leads to nothing but real harm, and I find in it a cautionary tale for our age, in which misinformation and conspiracy theories proliferate.

A Return to Main Street

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Sinclair Lewis’s novel offers no solutions to current social ills, nor does fiction serve such ends well. Fiction may, on the other hand, meditate on the romantic and the realistic to reveal insight into individual minds seeking out the world to find the best way to live in it.

The Colonizers

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Claire Messud’s novel intimately considers the legacy and trauma of the pieds-noirs through the story of a family living in Marseilles, France in the 1980s and 1990s.

Reading Palestine

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As a translator, I am often asked about contemporary Palestinian literature, and find myself, a liberal Jew from Israel currently living in the US, at an embarrassing loss. Recently, I found my foray into contemporary Palestinian writing.

Revisiting Alice Munro’s “Material”

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Munro raises questions about the relationship between two things that often coincide in writers: the first is a certain amount of self-indulgence and self-mythologizing; the second is the difficult work of putting aside the ego and observing the world.

Desire in John Wray’s Godsend

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Aden Grace Sawyer, the young white American woman inspired by John Walker Lindh who leads John Wray’s latest novel, is on a mission from God.