Emily Dickinson Is Dead (The Homer Kelly Mysteries)Emily Dickinson Is Dead by Jane Langton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

which, as things go, should be no surprise to anyone. as are most of the plot elements in this book.

plot basics: the faculty of an eastern college in Amherst gets the brilliant idea to have a symposium on Emily on the 100th anniversary of her death. things go awry… a couple of murders, attempted murders, forgeries, skullduggery of varying stripes. there is of course a satirical element to the book, because apparently one can’t write about English departments without satirizing them. (where’s the satire of the Chemistry department? Applied Physics? well, i guess writers write what they know.)

i mean, it was ok. all the plot holes neatly filled, loose ends tied, etc. but it was so very predictable from the git-go and all the way through to the end. one could foresee most plot movements chapters ahead of their occurrence. no motivations were obscure, no murky decisions made, no character ever really surprised herself.

one thing in the book really disturbed me, though: the incessant harping on Wilhelmina’s fat. so, this character is rather grossly obese. ok, granted. but the author spends paragraphs and paragraphs describing that fat, as if she weren’t a woman really at all, just a giant blob. as if the fat were all that defined her, her totality.

similarly Alison, her physical opposite–beautiful and slender with red-gold hair. she too is described pretty much only in terms of her physicality and its effects on men.

there’s something weird in this preoccupation with mere bodies. i suppose one could make a case that the author wanted to comment on how women are defined by society in these terms–one of the (male) characters in the book is trying to hock a photo of Emily “proving” she was beautiful–and how other contributions women make are not valued.

satire is such an immensely difficult form, though. the satire has to be spread on evenly throughout the book, and developing any sympathy with a character is deadly. but i think this book fails on the thin representations of almost every woman in the book. we see the guys’ interior lives, but the womens’ interior lives are 100% cliche. the imbalance ruins the satire.

i don’t know–it was ok–but it did rather leave me feeling i needed a shower to get that feeling of icky representations of women off me.

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