Sunday, February 27, 2011

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

With The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel, award-winning author Jerome Charyn dares to dig deeper into the life of a woman who has captivated readers for generations.

Inspired by Dickinson's letters and poetry, this novel blends fact and fiction in a seamless way that allows the reader to believe every word Charyn has written is how it occurred.

The book opens in 1848, with a young Emily Dickinson as a seminarian at Mount Holyoke, where she falls in love with a fictional handyman known as Tom. Her fixation with Tom would follow her through much of her her life, despite the attention paid to her by other men.

Dickinson serves as the narrator of this tale, and Charyn emulated her voice to tell the story. The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson is not a book you will race through. While daring and bold, it's best to be treated like a cold glass of water after a strenuous activity--sipped, rather than gulped.

Some may be opposed to the liberties Charyn took in portraying the "Queen Recluse," but I found he painted a fascinating picture of one of my favorite poets. Admittedly, the book held additional charm to me because I live not far from where Dickinson grew up in Amherst and I attend a writers conference at Mount Holyoke every year. To see names, places, and publications I am so familiar with, made me feel at home when reading the book. It also inspired me to delve further into Dickinson's real life.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson portrays a passionate, witty woman who lived life fully, despite the confines of the society and times within which she was born and lived.

Title:  The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel
Author: Jerome Charyn
Publisher:  W.W. Norton and Company

Price: $14.95
ISBN: 9780393339178
Pages: 352
Release: February 14, 2011

Price: $24.95
ISBN: 9780393068566
Pages: 348
Release: February 22, 2010

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Read an excerpt at Amazon!

Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”

New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”

Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009.

In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn’s book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong."

Charyn lives in Paris and New York City. Visit him online at:




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The publisher's website:

I received a copy of this book through Nicole at Tribute Books and the author. This review contains my honest opinion, for which I received no monetary compensation.


Michelle V said...

Wow. This book looks like something I would LOVE!

Michelle V

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

A thoughtful witty smart review. Thank you so much.

Tribute Books said...

Cheryl, thanks for the review. I wholeheartedly agree - Jerome's words are to be thoughtfully savored; not skimmed over in a hurry. I love how you've been to Mount Holyoke and are familiar with Amherst - what a treasure to have first hand references for places in the book.

For all those who'd like to follow along on the book's blog tour, please hop on over to

Turning the Clock Back said...

Thanks so much for this review! She was a woman I would love to learn more about!

Kate Dolan said...

Emily Dickinson is one of those women I always felt I should know more about. This book might be a fun introduction. Thanks for sharing!

Mayra Calvani said...

This sounds like a fascinating read!