The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel, by Jerome Charyn – a review

As most of you know, I’m a very big fan of Emily Dickinson, so this book has been on my radar since it was first published last year.  I picked it up at the library a few weeks ago because I was hungry for something to read quickly while I waited for the other books on my request list to trickle in.  I had serious doubts at the outset about whether the author would be able to convey the sense of Dickinson’s writing, or whether he would fumble it with clichés and questionable prose.  Well, he did a fairly good job (and that is high praise coming from me, given the subject).  His writing does indeed invoke a sense of her, or at least something not wholly dissimilar to what I feel when I read her verses, though certainly it is a somewhat diminished version.  He did take certain liberties in the story; I suppose this was unavoidable given the relative dearth of information about her day to day affairs.  New characters were introduced, and this bothered me more than it probably should have.  I guess my main complaint is not with the execution of the book, which was very good, but with the premise behind it:  fictionalizing her life.  I prefer the scholarship and the mystery of conventional biography.  However, this is probably a very good read for someone who is fond of her writing, but not obsessive about it.

I do really like the cover illustration (how awful is it that I’m talking about the cover illustration in my review of the book?), though the more I look at it, the less accurate it seems to me.  I’ve been to the Homestead and the Evergreens, and I’ve seen a recreation of her famous white dress; this isn’t it.  And it seems unlikely that she ever struck this pose while writing.  Perhaps, though, it is the perfect illustration for this book – evocative, though slightly romanticized.


One Response

  1. Just came across this interesting write-up. The cover did win a lot of awards. The book, too. It’s a finalist for the MA Library of Congress fiction award and declared a MUST-READ by the MA Center for the book. Perhaps Emily’s home state understands her best. Come visit our Facebook page of 6,800 Emily fans inspired by the novel. The author is a member.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: