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Book Review: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

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Shrouded in mystery, Emily Dickinson and her life have continued to be of interest to those enthralled with her writing. One of the great American poets, 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 when 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 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 so described 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 objections 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 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.

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About Leslie Wright

Leslie Wright is an author and blogger in the Northwest.
  • http://www.facebook.com/SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson Lenore

    Thanks for your lovely smart review – we, at the book’s facebook community, agree that this is a GREAT choice for book clubs – there’s even an online reading guide written by the author!