Younger sister Lavinia narrates events from the long-deceased poet’s life in this translation of a fanciful 2003 novel by the late Argentinean writer Kaufmann.
Reflecting on her life as an old woman, Emily Dickinson’s loyal but somewhat silly sibling recalls her Amherst, Mass., childhood in an illogical, non-chronological narrative. Vinnie found her father formidable, her mother emotionally absent. She playacted being the Brontë children with Emilie (as Kaufmann spells it) and older brother Austin. Once they moved from Pleasant Street to the brick house that once belonged to Grandfather Samuel, the sisters rarely left home. Vinnie anticipated marriage to her brother’s best friend, Joseph Lyman, but he moved to New Orleans and married someone else. The more cerebral Emilie entertained her own flirtations, with Colonel Thomas Higginson and Judge Phillip Otis Lord, mostly through letters. Austin married and settled down close by with a growing family; his affair in the last decade of his life with Mabel Loomis Todd would have enormous repercussions for the family legacy. Chapters treat various stages of the sisters’ lives in telling anecdotes that display Emilie’s unruly, recalcitrant mind. The decidedly unlettered Vinnie relates how, while cleaning Emilie’s room two months after her death, she unearthed thousands of poems carefully divided into packets: “some lengthy, others unkempt, like good and bad children, all of them orphans.” Unaware of her brother’s adultery, Vinnie entrusted them to Mabel to copy, a decision she would later rue when Todd altered Emilie’s unorthodox punctuation and rhymes, “making her digestible for those who had no real interest in her.”
Sensitively captures the dark, secretive nature of these thorny New England characters.