The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

Jerome Charyn, Author . Norton $24.95 (348p) ISBN 978-0-393-06856-6

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. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 11/02/2009
Release date: 02/01/2010
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!