Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century Paperback – March 15, 2016 by Jerome Charyn (Bellevue Literary Press)

Author Jerome Charyn would make a good detective. I thoroughly enjoyed following him as he hunted down clues about Emily Dickinson. The man certainly moved heaven and earth in order to find the "real" her, going wherever her ghost led him from shadow box makers to ballerinas to daguerreotype dealers and everywhere in between. He traced her footsteps from her sparse bedroom inside the family homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts into the dark, hidden corners of her mind, and still the trail ran cold.

Charyn's agitation at being stymied time and again simmered delightfully off the page, and I felt myself getting disgruntled right along with him. How could such a pivotal figure in American literature, simply hide in plain sight before disappearing into the ether? He states his case in an anecdote about the famed "Uncle Tom's Cabin" authoress, Harriet Beecher Stowe, upon her visit to the prominent Dickinson household. Charyn hypothesizes that the two women, despite sharing a deep understanding about the power of the written word, never actually met. There is no historical record of it, and due to Emily's hermit-like tendencies, it's unlikely they crossed paths. But to think that the greater literary talent didn't receive any of the acclaim the other did during her lifetime, is one of those moments in the book where you lift your eyes to the skies and scream: why?

That's where the source of Charyn's agitation stems from, and I totally understand it. He wants more for her than she wanted for herself. His admiration for her talent, her unique voice, her courage to break boundaries is expressed with unfailing admiration and respect in this homage to her. Writing this book is his way of paying tribute to a genius as he tries to get as close as he can to her, but like every man before him, he fails every time, catching merely a glimpse of her wan face before she fades right back into the shadows.

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