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American Eve by Paula Uruburu

>> Monday, June 23, 2008

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 372
Non-Fiction Five #5, A-Z Reading #35 (U Author)

The full title is actually "American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl and the Crime of the Century". That’s a lot for one book, but Evelyn Nesbit had a lot happen in the first 22 years of her life. A famous face at 16, Evelyn was the ‘girl in the red velvet swing’ and the focus of one of the most infamous murders in the early part of the 20th Century. Well known architect Stanford White was very publicly murdered by Evelyn’s husband, Harry K. Thaw in the roof garden theater of New York’s Madison Square Garden. Although Evelyn was a famous artist’s model and chorus girl, she’s most remembered as the beautiful girl at the center of the murder trials.

It’s difficult to read Evelyn’s story and not compare it to other well known celebrities and many of the young women dominating the entertainment headlines today. Her life was controlled early on by a mother who used her daughter’s beauty to support the family after the death of Evelyn’s father. Not only her mother, but nearly every other authority figure in Evelyn’s life and career used her beauty and naiveté to their own advantage or nefarious end.

I have to confess that I nearly gave up on this book in the early stages. The writing style is a bit overblown, particularly in the introduction and first chapter. After that, however, it settles in to telling Evelyn’s story which I found to be interesting and troubling all at the same time.


Eleanor 6/23/2008 7:31 PM  

I have been recommending this book like crazy in the store, and I am shocked by how many people have never heard of the "Girl in the Red Swing." I don't know when I first read about her, but the whole thing has always fascinated me. I was so glad she finally was given a "full treatment," and my heart just ached for her. And yes, the parallels to some of today's "celebrities because they are celebrities" is striking. Just goes to show that there really is nothing new under the sun.

SuziQoregon 6/23/2008 7:57 PM  

I'm not sure when I first heard the story - maybe when I saw the movie 'Ragtime'?

Definitely a precursor to the folks we know of today who are 'famous for being famous' as well as some of the truly sad celebrity stories.

Nicola 6/24/2008 6:20 PM  

I love this time period and reading bios from it. I've been interested in this story since I first heard about it in a book I was reading a little while ago.

SuziQoregon 6/24/2008 7:03 PM  

Nicola: I think you'd like this one - watch out for the first part, though. Stick with it until chapter 3 or 4.

Anonymous,  7/17/2008 4:50 AM  

I also highly recommend this book. I first read the "Girl on the Red Velvet Swing" story on the Crime Library website and I was fascinated enough to read two other books on the topic: Evelyn's autobiography and "The Architect of Desire" by Suzannah Lessard, who is Stanford White's great-granddaughter (by the way, I recommend the Architect of Desire, even though it's more about Lessard's family than about Evelyn and Stanford...however, it's really well-written and there are several chapters devoted to Stanford and Evelyn). So when Paula Uruburu's book came out, I was thrilled and definitely not disappointed after reading it! Stanford was a very complex and interesting man, Evelyn certainly had an exciting life, Thaw was a miserable individual, and my heart just broke for Evelyn! Don't you wish we could let her know how we feel about her?? The poor thing suffered for years as a result of being used by powerful people (her mother, Stanford, etc.). If this happened today, she would have been all over TMZ and Larry King and she wouldn't have to worry about money because the media would have paid dearly for her story. Anyway...a great book and I give it an A+!!!

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