Friday, February 25, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson - Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn, "one of the most important writers in American literature" (Michael Chabon), continues his exploration of American history through fiction with The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, hailed by prize-winning literary historian Brenda Wineapple as a "breathtaking high-wire act of ventriloquism." Channeling the devilish rhythms and ghosts of a seemingly buried literary past, Charyn removes the mysterious veils that have long enshrouded Dickinson, revealing her passions, inner turmoil, and powerful sexuality. The novel, daringly written in first person, begins in the snow. It's 1848, and Emily is a student at Mount Holyoke, with its mournful headmistress and strict, strict rules. Inspired by her letters and poetry, Charyn goes on to capture the occasionally comic, always fevered, ultimately tragic story of her life-from defiant Holyoke seminarian to dying recluse.
(Synopsis taken from goodreads.)

Title: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: February 14, 2011
Format: e-book
Source: Received from publicist as part of the Tribute Books blog tour for The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. You can follow along with the tour here. Many thanks goes to Nicole from Tribute Books for sending me a copy of this book for review. I received this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 4/5

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson takes on the task of deciphering just what makes Emily tick, and gives us a glimpse of the reclusive life that she led. Although this is a work of fiction, it is a plausible interpretation of her life. Though I don't know much about Emily Dickinson, I  do recall learning various facts about her from school, and while reading the book, I also did some research to refresh my memory. I enjoyed reading about Emily in this volume. I found The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson surprised me actually with how vivid it was, especially knowing that some works can be written with a voice that is too dry. This is not one of those books. Emily is a girl who wants to get married, and she is emboldened by her sharp wit. Her humorous and albeit dark lookout on life had me reading voraciously to see what knowledge I could glean from her. 
It was interesting to see where history and fiction collides in The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, and though I may not necessarily agree with some of the liberties taken, I do realize that this is fictional recreation of her life. As such, I applaud Charyn for creating such a vivid backdrop, and making history so real for those who may not enjoy reading about historical figures due to the fear of 'textbook syndrome'. It really was a captivating read, especially when you see how she was influenced by the writers of her era; to us, they are prestigious and influential, but back then, they were just evolving, and coming into their own. I wished more of Emily's work could have been captured in the book though, as it would have added more to the read. However it was neat to see how Currer Bell was brought to life, and how that affected women in writing, especially Emily.
All in all, a historical and fictionalized recounting of the life and times of the reclusive Emily Dickinson. I think many will either love or hate this read, based on their views of Emily in history, and the version of Emily detailed in this story. History is detailed fluidly in this book, and the voice, set in the 1800's, just adds to the descriptive quality. History comes to life, and will leave the readers questioning whether or not how true to reality this actually is. I'm glad I picked it up as it challenged my views and gave me an appreciation for life as a female authoress in those times. 

1 comment:

Tribute Books said...

Corrine - what a well thought out review! I really appreciate the approach you took to your post.

I'm so glad that you enjoyed the book, and thanks again for hosting a stop on the blog tour.