Book Review: “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel” by Jerome Charyn

The Secret Life of Emily DickinsonThe Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel” by Jerome Charyn was an unusual choice for me to read. I’m not much for historical romance but wanted to give this book a go because I’m a big fan of Dickinson, or what ModPo people know as being a Dickinsonian.

I couldn’t help but enjoy the novel as soon as I started reading it. It stood for all things that I thought that Emily Dickinson was not. I pictured her as a recluse of a poet, who was introverted, well-educated, but stuck to home, and wrote in solitude in her room.

The pleasure was in reading that Dickinson fancied a guy with a tattoo and she even had competition for her affections. Littered throughout the prose is the ampersand also know as ‘&’ which was an intriguing use to me.

Later, Dickinson’s affections, although they don’t seem to have changed for the tattooed man, shift to another rascal of a man, named Brainard. To me this is a play on the word brain. There were also other plays on words: Vesuvius, brain, swerve to mention a few, and I won’t give away any references with direct quotes from the novel because I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. Even words that we don’t usually capitalized in prose are, like in Dickinson’s poetry, capitalized in the novel. The pleasure is also finding pieces of her poetry, small gems, small lines from her poems in the prose about her life. The reading at times, is quite poetic even in its prose, it is at times a joy.

How fictitious is it? I don’t know. I chose to read the fiction book first as it seemed a bit racier which is not how I’ve perceived Emily Dickinson in the last two years while studying her poetry in ModPo. I’ve just started reading the non-fiction book “Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds” by Lyndall Gordon. I’m looking forward to the contrasts between the two accounts.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. I like and appreciate being able to look at Dickinson in a new light and my perception of her being the strong creative woman is further enhanced by this novel.

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