protective of the poetess

As promised, here's my take on The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: I didn't like it. I seldom stop reading a book halfway through, but I did put this one down.

My biggest beef was this: I understand that when writing a novel about a famous person you are allowed some license to create a world for them, but Charyn's book was too much for me. I didn't mind that he made Emily a character with a sense of awareness about her own sexuality,  actually found it rather refreshing, considering how often even today we conceive of females in previous centuries as almost sexless creatures; I didn't like that Charyn then seemed to go a little too far, having Dickinson fall in love with a series of men (all poor choices), one after the other. It seems as though in trying to undo the spinster-poet way we think of Dickinson, Charyn went to the other extreme, making her a lovesick fool.

Maybe I let my own sense of Dickinson get in the way of enjoying this...? I was given Dickinson--by my favorite Auntie-when I was an angsty teen, writing angsty-teen-terrible poetry, so I feel protective of the poetess. She always seemed like a bad ass to me, shirking societal norms--staying single and writing, no less--so it was hard to swallow a story about a girl who chases one ass-hat of a man after the next.

Gah, I will quit complaining. Maybe later in the book Charyn paints a different portrait, but I guess I'll never know. To be fair, here is the NYTimes review.


Wendy L. said…
Oh no! I was really looking forward to this novel!

As is the case with all my opinions, they are my own and not meant to be a deterrent--try it, you may find you LOVE it! :)
I admin the FB page inspired by this novel - we have more than 8,000 members. I am so sad that you didn't find the real Emily in this book - the portrait found when reading her love letters. Would it help to know that Emily scholars such as Joyce Carol Oates loved the novel? Or that its author Jerome Charyn was selected as the keynote speaker guest by the Emily Dickinson Museum at its annual gala held on Emily's birthday? Or that the MA branch of the Library of Congress named it a must-read? How about this: Wrentham, MA is focusing an entire month of activities around the whole town reading this novel together, called "One Town One Book."

We respect every reader's viewpoint and reading a novel is a very personal experience, but I hope you will give the book another chance and also come visit us! You will all be very welcome. - Lenore, co-admin of

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