Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson - Jerome Charyn

Summary:  The inner life of Emily Dickinson was creatively effulgent, psychologically pained and emotionally ambivalent, as reported by Charyn, who here inhabits the mind of one of America's most famous poets. Charyn parrots the cadent voice of razor-sharp Dickinson, beginning in her years as the tempestuous young lyricist who aims to choose my words like a rapier that can scratch deep into the skin. (Summary from Publisher's Weekly via - Image from - Book provided free for review).

My Review:  It goes with out saying that creating a novel about "the secret life" of a well-studied historical figure carries some heavy risk.  However I am entirely uneducated about Emily Dickinson so I felt free to read the book without worrying to much about authenticity.  I was enthralled with the voice of the narrative with its, not surprisingly, lyrical prose.

Much of the novel had the feel of a introspective auto-biography but, even without my knowledge of Dickinson's life, I could tell the difference between what was fact and what was most likely invented.  This was because the inventions were often times tinged with salaciousness or attempted to provide shock value.  That said, the fictionalized insertions did deal with rumors or suspicions that might hover around Dickinson's life (ie, rebellion, secret romances, lesbian tenancies, mental illness).  These details only added to a picture of the whole person, rather than narrowly defining her as a single stereotype. 

I would have liked to have been exposed to Dickinson's poems in my reading.  They were absent.  But I guess that Dickinson's poems were absent in the public realm throughout her life, so perhaps it is fitting.  This book was about Emily Dickinson's life, from which sprang her poems, not about the poems themselves.    

My Rating:  3.5 (probably a 4 if I had a previous familiarity with Dickinson)

To Sum it Up:  A lyrical look at the (imagined) life of an American icon..


Tribute Books said...

Thanks Mindy for hosting a stop on the blog tour and thanks Emily for the great review.

I really liked the line: "These details only added to a picture of the whole person, rather than narrowly defining her as a single stereotype." I agree Jerome really captured all the possible aspects of Emily's personality.

For all those who'd like to follow along on the blog tour, please hop on over to:

Misha said...

I am unfamiliar with Emily Dickinson's works too but I love the premise of the book. I think I would like to give this book a try.


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