Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read is American Eve by Paula Uruburu. If you need to catch up, you can read my first post about this book here, my second post here, and my third post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

By the time of her sixteenth birthday in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was known to millions as the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty, and whose innocent sexuality was used to sell everything from chocolates to perfume. Women wanted to be her. Men just wanted her. But when Evelyn’s life of fantasy became all too real and her insanely jealous millionaire husband, Harry K. Thaw, murdered her lover, New York City architect Stanford White, the most famous woman in the world became infamous as she found herself at the center of the “Crime of the Century” and a scandal that signaled the beginning of a national obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity, and sex.

My final thoughts:

This last section of the book covers Harry Thaw's murder of Stanny White, and the subsequent trials that Evelyn was forced to take part in. The author does a great job of explaining Thaw's misguided logic that prompted him to murder White and believe he could get away with it, and Evelyn's increasing feelings of fear and entrapment as she is forced to reveal to the public the secrets of her life that she had held close for so many years.

Predictably, Evelyn's mother was nowhere to be found again when her daughter needed her, and was eventually proven to have been feeding information to the prosecution to help convict Thaw. One of Evelyn's relatives said this about her mother: "She knew better. She also knew that she was sacrificing her child's soul for money by which to live without effort. She could have taken in washing or done a thousand other things that would not have placed her child in harm's way....Even a dumb brute would protect its young....She was the degenerate." I know I have returned again and again to Evelyn's mother, but I cannot help but imagine what Evelyn's life could have been like if the person whose job it was to protect her wouldn't have abandoned her. I can't help but think of other famous young women who have had spectacular, well-publicised breakdowns (Britney Spears comes to mind), and wonder how much her parents let her down in a similar way.

It was interesting to read about the frenzy of press this trial produced - again, I can't help but think of modern equivelents, and wonder about the advisability of allowing the press to pursue their subjects almost without restraint. Evelyn says, "It is a frightening experience to hear a thought to which you have never given words babbled aloud in the street....It sets you frantically anxious to attend, to contradict, to correct. Your little secret is everybody's secret now. It has gained in importance, has been twisted in detail until it is like nothing you ever knew." Sound anything like the tabloids of today? Once again, I have been amazed at how this story from 100 years ago parallels so much of our society today.

I found this book to be a fascinating read. The author is clearly a fan of Nesbit's - if you do a little research on the internet, you can find several accounts of the story that are not as kind to Evelyn. There were moments when I felt the narrative was a bit too overdone and sensationalistic - the prolific use of adjectives bothered me in the middle sections of the book. I was completely drawn in to the story, however, and felt so much sympathy for Evelyn and her plight. If you are looking to try some nonfiction and don't know where to start, I would definitely recommend giving this one a try. (And as an interesting aside, author L.M. Montgomery used a photograph of Nesbit as the model for her beloved heroine Anne in the Anne of Green Gables series.)

"The tragedy wasn't that Stanford White died, but that I lived."
-Evelyn Nesbit, 1934

Finished: 8/4/09
Source: Riverhead Books
Rating: 7/10


bermudaonion said...

I'm not crazy about the overuse of adjectives either, but I'm very intrigued by this story.

Zibilee said...

After reading all your reviews on this book, I am bothered by the same thing you are: her mother. The woman sounds awful and extremely selfish. It's no wonder that her daughter had such a hard time in the world with a parent like that. Excellent set of reviews, I have already put this book on my list. Thanks!

Kristen M. said...

I've really enjoyed following through your reviews on this book. It's not one that I'll run out and get right now but I'm sure I will read it at some point. Great job!

Carrie K said...

Her mother just sounds monstrous.