Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alice's Review: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A NovelSummary:  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. From the first page, witty Emily harbors conflicted feelings toward her female status: her esteemed father, the town's preeminent lawyer, adores Emily at home for her intellectual companionship, but also dismisses her formal education as a waste of money & a waste of time, and it's easy to see how Emily's poetic instincts are born from the shifting sensations of comfort and resentment brought by a childhood spent serenading Father with my tiny Tambourine. Emily's growth is brightly drawn as she progresses from petulant child to a passionate woman with a ferocious will and finally to that notorious recluse. However, while this vivid impersonation is a stylistic achievement, it's also confining and limits higher revelations.  - Copyright © Reed Business Information

Review:  Up until I read this novel, I had no idea who Emily Dickinson was.  I knew her name, I knew she was a writer but that was about it.  I didn't know what to expect when I began The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.  What I learned was that Ms. Dickinson was a complicatedly simple woman with a deep desire to love and experience life. 

I enjoyed the time I spend with her.  Jerome Charyn had incredible skill to give her a voice.  His descriptions were so vivid.  I loved the moxie Emily had, the humor in which she approached life.  I love that she had a touch of the dramatics.  I loved how real he made her.  She was no longer this unknown woman who happened to be a poet in the 19th century.  She was a woman who wanted so much from life, to explore to travel to see what the world had to offer.

I especially loved the way Mr. Charyn describes Emily's relationship with her father.  She loved her father deeply and above all wanted his approval.  I think she wanted him to accept her for who she was, flawed, insecure and perfect.  In the end, I think she gets just that.  If only that was enough. 

I think this novel is a great read for those who love Emily Dickinson and her poetry.  It's also a great way to discover her for the first time.  This will definitely be a novel I will read again.  The next time, I will have a book of Emily Dickinson's poems on hand.

And as for Mr. Charyn, I am looking forward to reading his other work.  He has this beautiful ability to encompass the voice of whomever he becomes. 

Final Take: 4/5 



Jenn February 20, 2011 at 8:32 AM  

I love that he has a reading guide on his site! So neat tosee the perspective of the author on his own work.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson February 20, 2011 at 10:36 AM  

Emily's got moxie - so true and so well written. We - over at the facebook page inspired by Emily as portrayed in this novel - are psyched by your smart review. Come see the link. And thank you for your critical reading of Emily's Secret Life.

Rachel February 20, 2011 at 4:27 PM  

Emily Dickinson has always fascinated me. Great review! Adding this book to the TBR list.

TopherGL February 24, 2011 at 3:46 PM  

I have always had a love of her poetry, which is saying a lot because I simply can't stand most poetry. I'll add this to the list and try it out sometime!

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