I have had an interest in Evelyn Nesbit every since I saw the musical “Ragtime” (based on the E.L. Doctorow book?) years and years ago. There is a song, or possibly two, about her. All I knew about her was that she was the ‘girl on the swing’ and was involved in the ‘crime of the century.’ Something about her husband shooting her old boyfriend, Stanford White. Thus when I was offered the chance to review Paula Uruburu’s “American Eve” about Nesbit, I enthusiastically agreed. I love learning things, and this was definitely a topic that had piqued my interest.
I was shocked by what I learned of Evelyn’s life. I had no idea that she was so young when ‘dating’ Stanford White. Their relationship would have been considered statuatory rape, although his seduction of her was much closer to actual rape that anything merely statuatory. Evelyn led a tragic life, beginning with the death of her father. From there on out, she was simply used by all those close to her: by her mother for financial gain, by White for sex, and by her husband for his revenge fantasies about Stanford White.
“American Eve” was well-crafted and well-written. Uruburu balanced reporting just the facts (leaving out any added drama) with a style that kept the book interesting. In some ways, “American Eve” reminded me of “Devil in the White City” in the way it filled in many other historical details of the age around its story, but it didn’t have the tendency I found with “Devil in the White City” to occasionally get somewhat dull. Not only did I learn about the lives of Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and Henry K. Thaw, but I also gained a better understanding of early 20th century American culture.
This is a very readable biography with a lot of cultural history included. If that’s your kind of thing, I would definitely recommend “American Eve.”
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book for review.