Tuesday, November 11, 2014

American Eve: Review

American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of the 'It' Girl, and the 'Crime of the Century' by Paula Uruburu (2008) tells the story of [Florence] Evelyn Nesbit who was a beautiful, popluar chorus girl, artist's model, and budding actress at turn of the century (19th to 20th) whose long-term liaison with renowned architect Stanford White led to her identification as "The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing" as well as her involvement in one of the early 20th Century's most notorious murder trials. She rose from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to a model whose face and figure were used in newspaper and magazine advertisements, on postcards and calendars. Her celebrity hit before she was 18 years old. Once she started in the chorus, she found herself the object of many men's fantasies and the recipient of the attentions of "Stage Door Johnnies." Among her admirers were several millionaires, but she ignored them until Stanford White came along. He showered presents on her and her family and introduced her to a side life she only dreamed of. Then he seduced her. But his support--both financially and in the theatre world continued and she kept in touch with him.

When Harry Kendall Thaw, son of the very wealthy Thaw family of Philadelphia family, became interested in Evelyn, she had no idea that he had another agenda in mind other than making her his own through marriage. He had heard of White's association with her and he hated White with a passion. Thaw had no compunction about using the beautiful young woman to wreak havoc on the evil man he believed White to be. He married Evelyn in April of 1905 and just over a year later he took her to the Madison Square Garden rooftop theatre--the playground of her former lover--and shot White to death. White thought he was a hero for revenging his wife's innocence. Given his treatment of her and his behavior leading up to the murder, I'd say he was a bit crazy.

I have to say that I was disappointed in this. When I was looking for a true crime novel to read to fulfill a couple of challenges, the name Stanford White caught my eye. In 2012, I read a book of White's letters to his family and my comment at the end of that review was that "I think I would have been far more intrigued by one of the books which covered this high-profile murder than I was by the collection of letters." And here one of those books is. And I remain fairly un-intrigued. For all the billing on the cover about the "Crime of the Century"--less than one-third of the book is devoted to writing about the crime, trial, and aftermath (very brief info on the aftermath) combined. The rest of the book takes a very long and rambling (particularly for a non-fiction book) trip through Evelyn's early life and journey to become Thaw's wife. Uruburu is repetitive in descriptions and, most noticeably in the first half, given to writing sentences in which it sounds like she's producing the most adjectives with the most of syllables possible. Throwing $10 words around as my relatives used to say. All to no purpose.  

She gives us a fair overview of the time period and attempts to represent Evelyn as a young woman misrepresented by history. But she never made Evelyn a real person to me and she never made me really care about her story. I was horrified by what she went through--but horrified on principal and because the events were, indeed, horrifying. Not because I made any real connection with Evelyn Nesbit as a person. ★★


fredamans said...

I got all excited reading 'Crime of the Century', y'know, it leads you to believe it will be exciting. I am letdown to see you were letdown. Doubt I would bother reading it now. Appreciate your great review though.

Katherine P said...

I'm familiar with this case and really want to know more about it but this doesn't sound like the book to read. Thanks for sharing! I'll keep looking!