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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn (Book Review)

Title: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
Author: Jerome Charyn
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company


About the Book: What if the old maid of Amherst wasn’t an old maid at all? Her older brother, Austin, spoke of Emily as his “wild sister.” Jerome Charyn, continuing his exploration of American history through fiction, has written a startling novel about Emily Dickinson in her own voice, with all its characteristic modulations that he learned from her letters and poems. The poet dons a hundred veils, alternately playing wounded lover, penitent, and female devil. We meet the significant characters of her life, including her tempestuous sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert; her brooding father, Edward; and the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, who may have inspired some of her greatest letters and poems. Charyn has also invented characters, including an impoverished fellow student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, who will betray her; and a handyman named Tom, who will obsess Emily throughout her life. Charyn has written an extraordinary adventure that will disturb and delight. (from Goodreads)

About the author: Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”


New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”


Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.


Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009.


In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn’s book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong."


Charyn lives in Paris and New York City. (information from Tribute Books)





You can connect with Mr. Charyn on his website, facebook and twitter.

My thoughts:  Let me start by saying that while I enjoy reading poetry, I have never taken it upon myself to learn anything about any of the great poets - so I have no point of reference to tell you whether or not this fictionalized account of Emily Dickinson's life and the characters she encounters are real or not.  Now I feel like I can tell you how I found the book. 

The book in not written in a "modern" tone, but rather in Emily's voice as it would have been in the 1800's.  This gave me a sense of being in the time and helped paint the picture of her life. From the start of the book, where she was a student at Mount Holyoke, studying to be a "bride of Christ" to the end of her life, she continued to have a fascination and secret yearning for Tom, the handyman at the school.  He turns up throughout the book in various ways and in various people. The story also includes her brother Austin, little sister Lavinia, her father (whom treats her as daughter, wife, servant, in various episodes throughout her life) her sister-in-law Sue, and school mate Zilpah - who is sometimes her friend and sometimes her nemesis.  I found it to be an engaging read, but I did have to be in the right mood to read it.  What it has done for me, is make me want to go find a "real" biography of Emily Dickinson and learn more about the real lady!

~I received this ebook from Tribute Books in exchange for my review.~

For more reviews - check out the book's blog tour site.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson also has a Facebook page and Twitter account.



The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel
Publisher/Publication Date: W.W. Norton and Company, Feb 14, 2011
ISBN: 978-0393339178
348 pages

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