Of course ED gets tarted up for a modern novel. (Take a look at that atrocious cover, will you?) But the unexpected part? Emily Dickinson has a dog, a giant Newfoundland named Carlo. He is Dickinson's chaperone for fifteen years, accompanying her on poetry-spinning strolls through New England apple orchards and illicit adventures to rum-houses where she meets and falls in love with inappropriate and not-quite-sane men. Carlo is protector and companion, and he grows to be both enormous and ancient. Hot tears I wept as I read of a half-blind Dickinson returning from a trip to Boston, entering her father's house, and crying, "Where's my dog?" Because, of course, the end is near. Carlo goes to sleep for the last time in a soft bed beside his mistress' own, during a snow storm that whitens the world:
I lay down beside Carlo in his bassinet. I must have been there five or six hours, my arm around his neck, and would have stayed another six if Pa-pa hadn't started tugging at me. He would tell people how I had all the strength of a steam engine, and that he couldn't pull me loose until I heard Ma-ma cry.
"Em," she moaned, "you cannot stay in this room forever with a dead dog."
I would have stayed, but I couldn't bear that look of horror in Ma-ma's eye.
And by the next chapter, Dickinson has assumed the persona that every American high-school student knows—the recluse clad in white who refuses to leave her house. Spoiler alert: The reason for her donning virginal colors is not a heart broken by a man or a youth lost. No, indeed. She is mourning her dog.
I wandered from room to room like the ghost that everyone thinks I've become, dressed in all white, because I will wear no other color while Carlo's soul is in Purgatory—I for one am not convinced there is much of a Heaven for dogs; they are doomed to wander somewhere, and while my Carlo was wandering, I will wear only white.
Mystery solved. Her reaction makes perfect sense.
The book is available at Austin Public Library.