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A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  104 ratings  ·  28 reviews
“Remarkable insight ... [a] unique meditation/investigation ... Jerome Charyn the unpredictable, elusive, and enigmatic is a natural match for Emily Dickinson, the quintessence of these.” —Joyce Carol Oates, author of Wild Nights! and The Lost Landscape

We think we know Emily Dickinson: the Belle of Amherst, virginal, reclusive, and possibly mad. But in A Loaded Gun, Jerome
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 15th 2016 by Bellevue Literary Press (first published September 8th 2015)
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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  104 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, poetry
Someone mentioned this in a thread in one of my GR groups. Since I was headed to the bookstore to see about another non-fiction, I thought I'd just inquire if they had this one. Well, they did and because I did not walk straight home but stopped for a happy hour glass of wine at a nearby restaurant, I started to read it. And it was much more interesting than the print book I was reading for another GR group, so I kept reading it!

This book is not a biography of Emily Dickinson. Rather, it is an i
Michael McCann
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Jerome Charyn is an innovative writer whose passion for his subject matter--whether it be his native Bronx, Abraham Lincoln, or Emily Dickinson--is expressed in a style inimitably his own. In A LOADED GUN, as in I AM ABRAHAM, Charyn has conducted extensive archival research to provide his own sense of the inner life of a gifted individual. Rather than accepting what has been the conventional view of Emily Dickinson as an isolated woman crippled by agoraphobia and manipulated by a dominating fath ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Emily Dickinson's person and poetry are iridescent. Trying to explain or even describe either proves futile. Nevertheless, Charyn demonstrates deep knowledge, intelligence and creativity in _A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century_. I've been dazzled by his interpretations, but what Charyn produced may be more an optical illusion than an archaeological discovery.

Over the course of 200 plus pages, Charyn assemble a variety of primary texts and critical works in an effort to complicate
Tony Parsons
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The life/times of Emily Dickinson (Bell of Amherst). The nitty gritty & even some dirt on her.
Poetry is not my forte. But this lady was 1 of a kind in her era & is still considered 1 of the best poet of all times.

Warning: This book contains extremely graphic adult content, violence, or expletive language &/or uncensored sexually explicit material which is only suitable for mature readers. It may be offensive to some readers.

I did not receive any type of compensation for reading &a
Mary Narkiewicz
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I am on the Newfoundland dog chapter.. Carlo.. Very pleased to see him get his due! 16 years in such a close connection with Emily Dickinson.. Yes, he deserves, at long last, at least a chapter! Thank you, Jerome Charyn.
And you are right, "if we're willing to admit that anyone can own a dog"..

Looking forward to immersing myself in this new book about Emily Dickinson..
Brian Bess
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Firing both barrels

I would not immediately think of the name ‘Emily Dickinson’ and the phrase “loaded gun” appearing in the same sentence. However, the phrase belongs to Dickinson herself and belies the traditional image we have of the shy, reclusive scribbler and bread baker of Amherst that has passed down through a century and a half.

Much of the purpose of Charyn’s book is to challenge and revise the established depiction of Emily Dickinson, epitomized by William Luce’s play, ‘The Belle of Amh
Faith Flaherty
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Loaded Gun by Jerome Charyn is well worth your time reading. Not only is it enjoyable, but you will learn some history of an era, besides gain a little understanding of what makes a poet tick. The poet is the poetess, Emily Dickinson. Charyn views Emily as a complicated character. She was agoraphobic, but her poems take her out of her self-imposed cloister to meet all kinds of people. She was a spinster, but her poems can be erotic. Her eroticism includes fantasies between both sexes. Perhaps ...more
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Parts of this were fascinating, but the unnecessary digressions were distracting. This felt a bit like it started out as a great dissertation and then was too short to be a real book, so Mr. Charyn padded it. I did really enjoy his writing, though, and the resources cited were helpfully contextualized. For any Dickinson fan, it's worth reading.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
I can't for the life of me figure out how I hadn't reviewed this earlier -- I'm half-convinced I did and it somehow got deleted -- but here it is:

This is not a biography of Emily Dickinson. This is literary criticism masquerading as a biography, walking a thin tightrope between the two and falling quite frequently. And it's pretty terrible literary criticism, at that.

My main problem with it? There is no cohesion. The book as terrible organization; it skips from topic to topic with no transition
Claire Garand
Jul 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
I could not get through this book. I really wanted the information but this is by far the most poorly organized biography I have ever read.

I love Emily Dickinson, but this book literally went from her mother's illness to a dog in one paragraph with no transitions. I can't get into Emily's story because the prose reads like a Dickinson scholar (who knows his stuff) got drunk at the pub and is now spouting off all the facts he knows to anyone who will listen. Honestly, that would be a much more pl
Lisa Mcbroom
Apr 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2016
The title comes from Emily Dickinson seeing a loaded gun in her father's room and metaphorically comparing herself to a loaded gun. Miss Dickinson to me was the Metaphor Queen. Charyn takes a spin on Emily Dickinson in the 21st Century and femnisits vies of her. For Dickinson scholars or just for Poetry Fans!
Cathy Nicastro
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
If it's summer, I am reading a book about Emily Dickinson. This one was a little breezy, but interesting, with some terrific what ifs that deal more with her revolutionary passions than with whoever (if ever) there was a Master. Indeed the premise here is that she is her own Master!
Aug 03, 2016 rated it liked it
As a huge fan of Emily Dickinson's work and fascinated with who she was I was very excited to read this book.

However, it was a disappointment to me. I could not find a pace with the writing style and organization of the novel. Because of that I could never fully enjoy.
Craig Masten
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
“A Loaded Gun” by Jerome Charyn is the novelist’s rather obsessive non-fiction exploration of the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson. He’d first written a novel called “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson,” which so intrigued him he was led to this second effort to come to terms with her compelling creativity.
Let me say I am also a fan of this great poet, and can therefore quite understand how the author wanted to know more and more about her. The book takes us in a somewhat rambling free form
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I was introduced to Emily Dickinson through Julie Harris' one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst in grade school. Later, as a student of literature, I quickly tired of the various attempts to mansplain Emily's life. Until I discovered Adrienne Rich. She GOT Emily. According to Rich, Emily didn't have a problem, it was the "unwritten and written laws and taboos underpinning patriarchy" that Emily found the sweet spot to living a life of her own design. So with that background, imagine my excitement ...more
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn 5 star

The title of this scholarly work of biography and critical analysis comes from
a Dickinson poem "My Life As a Loaded Gun." Contradicting depictions of
Dickinson as a shy recluse, the author sees her as a raging Vesuvius with
hidden fires who lived in a heaven and hell of words. He often compares
her to a predatory bird hunting words. He discusses her companionship
with her dog and Irish maid and her presumed bisexuality and int
Adam Bricker
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I never read any Emily Dickinson before this book and turns out that's a good thing. This book is well written and the author's passion saves it, but not my favorite. For me, breakdown in the middle describing Joseph Cornell was the only interesting part of the book.
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Enjoy anything Emily. I would recommend this book even though there are many other Emily books to choose from. Would love to see young readers learn about Emily.
Sparkie Allison
Aug 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed Jerome Charyn’s “Loaded Gun, Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century” is a thought-provoking journey into the genius and mystery of The Belle of Amherst. He researches the reclusive poet and focuses on the relationships to few people as she fled from strangers and saw the world framed through her windowsill. Previous books have focused on her writing, the solitude, the elusive behavior, but Charyn explores the hint of bisexual relationships and the 19th century expectations of women, ...more
Cheryl Malandrinos
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
With his thought-provoking, eloquent style Charyn explores the complex woman often referred to as the Belle of Amherst. At times shy, yet, sometimes bold, this often misunderstood poet has fascinated readers for generations.

As he did with his novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, he entices the reader to reconsider what they know about Dickinson. Was she merely that reclusive spinster trapped in her "Pearl Jail" at the Homestead or was she a gifted writer scribbling fragments on brown wrapp
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I confess that when I first received this book, I thought it would be a fictional account of Emily Dickinson's life. Mind you, that wasn't the case. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is a biography based on Emily's letters and poetry to various people along the way.

Via these letters and poems, Jerome introduces the reader to a different side of Emily. We see her vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and desires come through with every turn of the page. Growing up, I always thought of Emily
May 19, 2016 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really tried to give this book a chance after reading Alexandra Pechman's critical review in the New Republic, but the best thing I can say about it is that I learned more about Joseph Cornell, Allegra Kent, and the Dickinsons' Irish servant Maggie Maher. Also, it may have prevented me from writing in the first-person plural ever again.

Charyn goes on and on (and on) about how "we" have mythologized Dickinson as the batty virginal recluse, but then he fetishizes her hair color, the size of her
Corby Roberson
Sep 03, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the thorough investigation of various theories about who Dickinson was/is. However, I felt as if there could have been much more depth and critical conversation during some parts of the book. Sometimes ideas were brought up in rapid succession and not really teased out completely, so the argument or trajectory was a bit difficult to follow.

One reviewer, whose review appears to have been removed, wrote that Dickinson's heterosexuality should have been explored, but I felt as if the writ
Jul 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book was near unreadable. Self-indulgent and hard to follow. It feels like stream of consciousness. Anyone who has studied Dickinson will already know that she was an independent, intelligent, sexy woman. We don't need this guy talking about garters "like a pair of seductive spiders" to know that ("seductive spiders"?????????).

I also don't think he knows enough about Dickinson's culture to write this book. He quotes a letter in which she says "Where my Hands are cut, Her fingers will be fo
May 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Well that was disappointing. Pure speculation, much based on conflating her biography with her poetry, which is reductionist at best. The one big "find" that supposedly shoots down past biographies is a phantom photo of Dickinson and Kate, the ostensible love of her life. A photo rumored to exist, but not replicated in the book. I find it hard to believe anyone in the book's intended audience still gives credence to the virginal recluse myth--you can't read her poetry and still find her so passi ...more
Jun 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
With excerpts from Emily Dickinson's letters, poetry and other critiques about Emily this book continues to describe and discover the essence of Emily. Daguerreotype images of her are also critiqued and analyzed to puzzle her out.

Despite her reclusive ways, restricted environment and relationships, Emily created a tremendous amount of poetry. The attempt to uncover the mystery of how such a person could burst forth with that body of work was fascinating to learn about in this book.

In the end, I
Ernie Dixon
rated it liked it
Mar 17, 2016
Cinthya Castillo
rated it it was amazing
Feb 13, 2017
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Aug 15, 2018
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Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With more than 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist 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 L