Tuesday, December 21, 2010


From Publishers Weekly

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.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Charyn carefully adheres to the known facts of Dickinson's life, and he has a thorough knowledge of her poems and letters, the strains of which echo through his clever and elegant prose. Despite these qualities, the critics' reactions were tepid and unenthusiastic. They collectively took issue with his characterization of Emily as fickle, unstable, and promiscuous--hardly the makings of a perceptive and profound writer. The Washington Post denounced Charyn's choice to exclude Dickinson's poems from the narrative as a "damnable omission," and the San Francisco Chronicle derisively labeled the novel a "bodice-ripper." Readers who cherish Dickinson and her astonishing legacy may find the heroine of Secret Life supremely unsettling; those unacquainted with her should perhaps start with a biography like Brenda Wineapple's White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higgins (HHHH Nov/Dec 2008).

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Versatile and puckish Charyn extends his rascally improvisations on American history, following the Revolutionary War–era Johnny One-Eye (2008) with an audacious take on the life and spirit of Emily Dickinson. In his author’s note, Charyn explains his fascination with the poet and, most importantly, her “fiercely imagined life.” In a voice as precise and unnerving as that of her revolutionary poems, Dickinson narrates with droll wit, bemused rhapsody, and acid fury, often mockingly describing her redheaded self as a bird, mouse, kangaroo, spinster, “Uncle Emily,” and the Queen Recluse. Now and then, she alludes to the inner lightning strikes that prompt her to write, but flinty Dickinson focuses most on her knotty relationship with her father, her adoration for her dog, infatuation with her volcanic sister-in-law, and abiding, impossible love for Tom, the tattooed handyman turned thief. Bawdy, intrepid, and passionate, Dickinson ponders the shackles of women’s lives and class prejudice as she shares her surprisingly wild adventures. In this brilliant and hilarious jailbreak of a novel, Charyn channels the genius poet and her great leaps of the imagination, liberating Dickinson from the prim and proper cameo image of a repressed lady in white, and revealing just how free she truly was. --Donna Seaman

Among Charyn's writerly gifts is a dazzling energy -- a highly inflected rapid-fire prose that pulls us along like a pony cart over rough terrain.
- Joyce Carol Oates in The New York Review of Books

Charyn tells the truth, but tells it slant . . . He has re-created her wild mind in all its erudition, playfulness and nervous energy.
-- Ron Charles in The Washington Post

In Jerome Charyn's cleverly irreverent novel . . . Emily sneaks out of
her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, on clandestine missions, and falls in love with men she cannot have.
--The Daily Beast

In this brilliant and hilarious jailbreak of a novel, Charyn channels the genius poet . . . liberating Dickinson from the prim and proper cameo image of a repressed lady in white, and revealing
just how free she truly was.

Charyn excels most at drawing from Dickinson's rich poetic legacy to trace the ebb and flow of her life . . . compelling portrait of Emily Dickinson as an intelligent young woman writing on scraps of paper.
--Paula L. Woods in Los Angeles Times

“Charyn skillfully breathes life into historical icons.”
The New Yorker

“Jerome Charyn is one of the most important writers in American literature.”
—Michael Chabon

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson is astonishing. Charyn gives Emily Dickinson a new life, and one with a rush of energy and power. I shall never see her or her poetry in the same way again.
- Frederic Tuten, author of Adventures of Mao on the Long March

In his breathtaking high-wire act of ventriloquism, Jerome Charyn pulls off the nearly impossible: in The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson he imagines an Emily Dickinson of mischievousness, brilliance, desire, and wit (all which she possessed) and then boldly sets her amidst a throng of historical, fictional, and surprising characters just as hard to forget as she is. This is a bold book, but we'd expect no less of this amazing novelist.
- Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

“I never heard Emily Dickinson’s voice, but Jerome Charyn’s novel convinces me that this is the nineteenth-century genius woman poet, actually telling her story. . . . A tour de force by a major American novelist.”
—Herbert Gold, author of Still Alive: A Temporary Condition

“Jerome Charyn is merely one of our finest writers, with a polymorphous imagination and crack comic timing. Whatever milieu he chooses to inhabit, his characters sizzle with life and his sentences are pure vernacular music, his voice unmistakable.”
—Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude

“Charyn, like Nabokov, is that most fiendish sort of writer—so seductive as to beg imitation, so singular as to make imitation impossible.”
—Tom Bissell, author of God Lives in St. Petersburg

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