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Afternoons with Emily: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2007

16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An independent young woman comes of age under the influence of Emily Dickinson in this posthumous debut novel. (MacMurray, a public school poetry teacher, died in 1997.) Miranda Chase's childhood is an isolated one: her mother dies when she is nine and her busy scholar father provides his bright, inquisitive only daughter with a private tutor. A year-long sojourn in Barbados sets the stage for their move to Amherst, Mass., where her father teaches at the college. Miranda's unusual upbringing brings the 13-year-old to the attention of Amherst's famous recluse. Despite their 15-year age difference, Miranda becomes one of Emily's few regular visitors—and while she values her time with Emily (depicted imaginatively but gratingly; Emily speaks in capitals when she wishes to MAKE HER POINT), the relationship becomes more complicated as Miranda grows older and love, deaths, heartbreak and the Civil War intercede. Miranda begins a career in education and breaks away from Emily; the two clash with dramatic results. MacMurray knows well her "belle of Amherst," and the poet's friendship with a younger kindred spirit—which initially sets off gimmicky warning bells—becomes charming. This is really Miranda's story, but through it the poet and her poetry—in all their inconsistent genius—are served well. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson is remembered for both her vagaries and her verse. The author of sublime, pithy poems was reclusive, exclusive, and often emotionally overwrought. What prompted the once sociable New Englander (whose ancestors founded Amherst College) to spend the last 20 years of her life holed up in her father's house? Was she but another member of the eccentric Dickinson clan, which included a wraithlike mother and a sister who never recovered from a failed romance? Readers are invited to view Dickinson's world through the eyes of Miranda Chase, a clever young teenager who becomes the poet's confidante. Befriending Emily, who is nearly twice her age, proves both a blessing and a curse for Miranda. Many life lessons are learned as she navigates the moods of her mercurial, self-obsessed friend. Afternoons with Emily is the only novel from MacMurray, a poet and teacher who died in 1997. Based on letters, poems, and research about Dickinson, this engaging historical tale will appeal to those with interests in nineteenth-century American history and literature. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316017604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316017602
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on April 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Afternoons with Emily is a historical novel based on the life of eccentric American poet Emily Dickinson, yet the story isn't about Emily as much as it is about its sensitive narrator, Miranda Chase.

The literary novel is broken into different parts based on years, beginning when Miranda was a little girl in Boston. Daughter of a very sick woman and a scholar who was too busy to pay much attention to her, Miranda grows up with the fear of becoming ill with consumption like her mother. It is not before her mother dies that Miranda is finally free to enjoy life as a normal human being. This new part of her life is heightened by the fact that she and her father move to Barbados, where Miranda flourishes with the sea, the sun, and the dolphins. For the first time her father is able to really focus on her and her amazing literary skills. The focus of the novel, however, is on her life in Amherst, where they later move to and Miranda meets Emily. In spite of the difference in their ages--Miranda is a young teenager and Emily is twice her age--they become kindred spirits and inseparable friends. That is, until the obvious differences in their characters painfully begin to emerge, and Emily becomes not Miranda's best friend but her most detrimental enemy.

The novel portrays in beautiful and throbbing detail a clear picture of mid-nineteenth-century Amherst, especially when it comes to the way society viewed women and people's expectations toward them. Emily comes out as restless, genial, eccentric, obsessive and sometimes exuberant. One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is to hear her express herself--often her words are depicted with capital letters, which I found slightly distracting yet enthralling--about literature, society and women's roles.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Cooper on June 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a truly beautiful book, written lyrically and lovingly by an author who was herself a poet. Her research into Dickinson's poems and letters was extensive, and it shows. The Emily Dickinson that emerges is a complex and utterly believable figure. The Civil War atmosphere, both on and off the battlefield, is impressive. This is perfect for book clubs, and my own is reading it for June. This should be a classic, for lovers of poetry, history, and books in general.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Janet on July 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I will admit that I approached this book with a bias. I was very lucky to attend the weekly poetry class Rose MacMurray taught at my elementary school about twenty years ago. She was an amazing and inspiring teacher who managed to reserve praise while still encouraging her students. When she told you something was good, you knew she meant it. The class was so influential and memorable that when I found a beatup copy of the poetry collection we used, I immediately bought it and paid a small fortune to have it rebound. The postcard Mrs. MacMurray sent me from Greece the year after my family moved and I was no longer her student is still one of my prized possessions.

I was devastated to hear that Mrs. MacMurray had died, but excited to learn that she had published a novel. I approached "Afternoons with Emily" with high hopes. Happily, my expectations were met.

As I read this book, I was struck both by the lyrical descriptions and by the pace. This is a slow-paced book, especially when compared to the zippy prose on the internet. Don't misunderstand, "slow-paced" is not boring. Mrs. MacMurray's writing reminds me of Jane Austin's -- there is a gentleness and no rush to describe characters or push through the plot. Instead, the book blooms slowly, completely and beautifully.

Mrs. MacMurray's love of Dickinson's poetry is evident, but she does not overidealize the poet. Dickinson is portrayed as a real person with flaws and weaknesses.

I loved this book, and I think I would have even if I did not love the author. This is a novel to think about and enjoy. If you prefer to rush through series books just to discover the ending, "Afternoons with Emily" is not for you. If you have read "Emma" a hundred times and still find phrases that fascinate you, you won't want to miss this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By YankeeChick on June 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I deeply regret that the author of this book will never get the chance to write another, because I found this novel one of those impossible-to-put-down treats. I wasn't me reading the book--I was Miranda Chase as she lived her life and grew to fulfill a role greater than that which society had expected her to fill. Emily, on the other hand, shrinks and withdraws from the world until she seems like a wraith inhabiting the tiny, fragile world that she finally created around her. I found myself cheering for Miranda, weeping my way through her losses, and unable to put the book down to go to bed. I've already recommended it to all my nearest friends. Highly recommend you read it not as a scholarly, dull biography of Emily Dickinson but as a snapshot of life during that part of the 18th century in one part of the country. What a wonderful book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Prospero on June 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read "Afternoons With Emily" with great anticipation. Dickinson has been my favorite poet since I first discovered her poems at the age of eighteen. Having read that the author of the novel was a poetry teacher herself I looked forward to a novel which would offer fictional insights into the many mysteries of this fascinating poet.
I was very disappointed! This book reads like a harlequin romance novel with Emily Dickinson thrown-in in a vain attempt to make the book appear "literary". Dickinson is relegated to the novel's periphery, making appearances only when she has afternoon visits with the novel's protagonist.
The story of the protagonist herself is a fairly conventional faux-victorian bodice ripper. I found the main narrative only mildly entertaining.
But the hatchet-job the author does on Emily Dickinson herself is a terrible injustice. Dickinson is portrayed as a humorless, eccentric prude, who, at one point in the novel, writes an anonymous letter to expose an affair which the protagonist is having with an attorney.
Having read Dickinson's letters, her poetry and every major biography that has been written about her I cannot imagine where the author came up with this dour and almost spiteful picture of the poet. Dickinson's most ardent readers and admirers have always loved her for her warmth, her gnomic humor and her deft, witty criticism of New England propriety. Emily Dickinson was a nonconformist, not a prig! I advise those who are unfamiliar with "The Belle of Amherst" to turn to the poet's own wonderful writings rather than waste their time on "Afternoons With Emily"!
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