cover image A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century

A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century

Jerome Charyn. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-934137-98-7

Novelist and nonfiction author Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson) presents a postmodernism-flavored study of Emily Dickinson’s life and work. His lively reassessment draws on the work of other scholars, close readings of Dickinson’s poems and letters, and vivid commentary on the artists she inspired. Joseph Cornell created shadow boxes based on her poems, and Joyce Carol Oates’s futuristic short story “EDickinsonRepliLuxe” evokes the doll-like mystery of the only extant image of Dickinson—a daguerreotype taken when she was 16. At the heart of Charyn’s study is a quest to find out who Emily Dickinson really was. His answer is that she was not the reclusive virgin often pictured, but rather a woman of “Promethean ambition” who raged against a culture that had no place for unmarried, childless women. Looked upon as a “half-cracked village muse,” she guarded her privacy fiercely so she could work, often at a feverish pace, reinventing the language of poetry. She wrote about volcanoes, physical passion, wild beasts, rape, madness, and the grave, and was “at war with language itself” as if on a quest “to tear apart the order and hierarchy of all things.” For Charyn, Dickinson has no equal as a poet, except perhaps Shakespeare. No one else, he says, took the risks she did. Illus. (Mar.)