Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

Article first published as Book Review:The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn on Blogcritics.
Shrouded in mystery, Emily Dickinson and her life have continued to be of interest to those enthralled with her writing. One of the great poets of our time, her life and times are of great interest. A private person, her life continues to hold a fascination. Who was she, the woman behind the writing?

In The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, Jerome Charyn has written a novel that gives us a glimpse into the possibilities of her life. Using information as well as conjecture, we learn of a woman and her life, its tragedies and triumphs. She is born in a time that woman writers are just beginning to make a mark. Her work becomes known through a series of circumstance.

In a fascinating story told in bold and audacious fashion, Mr. Charyn has delved deep into the psyche of the woman behind the poet. He describes her escapades of the times as well as the problems she is known to have faced. Her relationship with her family and her own wild stunts are brought out in basic relief, a life described in a fashion to make her more human. We sometimes forget the actual humanity of those that rise above, whether is it their celebrity status or their wealth, and Charyn gives us that person behind the mask.

This is often a humorous and yet heartbreaking look at a woman who cut herself off from humanity as she aged. It is a look at her passions’ and her genius, often recognized more by those around her, more so then herself. Overcoming the disapproval of others including her beloved father to make a mark in writing, she is beleaguered by the objection of some of her peers. Her background and life come to stark reality. This is a realistic look at the woman behind the prose.

I would recommend this book as an in depth look at an extremely admirable woman. It is wonderfully written, full of characters that leap off the pages. Jerome Charyn has written about a woman who just happens to be famous, and yet this novel is intriguing without that distraction. Her poetry is secondary to the theme of this book. This is a look as the fragilities’ and vulnerabilities of any one person with the staunchness to overcome and stay true to their nature. This would be a wonderful addition for a book club or discussion group.

Jerome Charyn's Bio:

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.”

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W.W. Norton & Company web site:'s Top Books of 2010 (#52)
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Tribute Books said...

Leslie - thanks so much for a great review and for hosting a stop on the blog tour. I really like how you highlighted the fact that Jerome really brought Emily's humanity to the forefront.

P.S. I love the new look of your blog and congratulations on joining BlogCritics!

Ginia said...

Great Review! In-depth and thought provoking. I will add this one to my to-read list.

Elizabeth said...

First-time visitor.

Great review.

..Stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Party.

Stop by my blog for a book giveaway:


Chelsey Emmelhainz of HARPER COLLINS is graciously providing FIVE copies for five lucky winners.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

This was a great review and picked up by the Seattle Intelligencer and other great book sites. Emily Dickinson, this wonderful novel AND your thoughtful blog all deserve the recognition! Thanks!