While headed both to and from Brattleboro, Vermont, this wekend to participate in their wonderful annual Literary Festival, I read. I am one of those lucky people who can read in a car. (And no, I wasn't driving!) Yes, the scenery in New England is spectacular this time of year and I did look up and through the window now and then. But so was my book: AFTERNOONS WITH EMILY. by Rose MacMurray, who, sadly, died just as she finished writing it. Her family oversaw its publication.

Maybe only former English majors will love this book...(but lord knows there are enough of us around!) Told from the point of view of a young girl who moves to Amherst, MA when her father becomes a professor of Classics at the college there, the story is really a study of the girl's odd, reclusive neighbor, Emily Dickinson.


Needless to say, this is a novel and therefore one can't rely on the authenticity of its portrayal of the poet. Still, it is clearly carefully researched (the author was a teacher of poetry) and the time and place come thoroughly alive in the book. So does the character of Emily, with all of her complex personaity and quirks: her hysteria, her simmering angers, her arrogance, and at the same time the sharp intellect and the amazing newness of her style.

Almost simultaneously...well, okay, I finished one before I started the other, I read LOVING FRANK, by Nancy Horan: another first novel, which I bought on the recommendation of the New York Times reviewer. Again, a fictonal portrait of an historic figure, this time the mistress of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a study of the events leading to her very tragic death.


This one was equally well done, I thought, equally absorbing, and both of them have made me ponder the difficulties—well, the challenge, I guess would be the better word—of bringing a real person to life on the page without compromising the known facts.

The amount of reserach in both cases is staggering to think about.