When Alice Dickinson takes time off from her job in advertising to write a screenplay about the late Emily Dickinson (no relative), she is excited. Her research takes her to Amherst, Massachusetts, and she almost immediately meets Nick Crocker, a fifty-something academic who has a bit of a reputation.

Somehow she finds herself staying in his huge house, and despite all of her best laid plans, she is soon involved in a love affair with him. But where is his wife, and why is she absent?

Amherst: A Novel is an engaging story that sweeps back and forth through time, showing the reader the little circle of friends (and some enemies) that surround Emily and her sister Vinnie, as well as her brother Austin.

Austin is married to Sue, but unhappily…and with Emily and Vinnie’s encouragement, he is soon involved with Mabel Todd, who seems to be in an open relationship with her husband David.

From journals she discovered in her research, Alice feels almost as if she is right there with the primary players in the scandalous and sexy liaisons of the past. Could the people from that time have been as free and easy as they seemed? Would her own values change as she learned more about them? And could her peek into the past have released her from her own inhibitions?

I did enjoy how Mabel seemed to be a champion for Emily’s poems, discovered after her death in a stuffed drawer. When some publishers turned her away, she kept searching until she finally found one. I liked this part of the story as much (or more) than the love affair, which may have been a bit scandalous for the times, but was nothing I hadn’t read about before, with other players. In some ways, that part of the story lagged for me, and even the alternating time periods didn’t really engage me.

Then, near the end, as Alice and Nick meet again after their love story ends, as Alice seeks closure, Nick’s thoughts to her on love seemed interesting to me:

“…We think there’s someone out there who can make us happy, someone who’ll make us complete, but that’s not how it works. We think not getting what we want is the problem, but it’s the wanting that’s the problem. We want the whole world to feed us…There’s no end to its hunger. We end up as slaves, chained to our hunger, doomed to service its bottomless need forever. There’s only one way out of that. You have to break the chain…”

I liked that twist on love, and in the end, Alice discovered a way of framing the events of her story about Mabel and Austin to give them an intriguing slant. These last moments elevated my take on the story to 4 stars.


  1. Sounds like quite a few liaisons going on in the story. I thought the past with Emily Dickinson was pretty puritanical but hell what do I know. LOL


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