EVELYN AS BY CHRISTINE BUTTERWORTH-MCDERMOTT
By reimagining her over and over again as a series of portrait poems—fitting for a girl who spent her girlhood posing for cameras—Christine Butterworth-McDermott offers readers an empathetic biography of the twenty-two years Evelyn Nesbit spent in the public eye while suffering the manipulation and abuses of men in private.
Often, the lenses for these portraits are those of other feminine figures—Eve, Persephone, Schehezerade, Saint Maria Goretti, Rapunzel—and thus interrogate the way narrative has typified and stigmatized women throughout time. Butterworth-McDermott questions the harm done to Nesbit—and all women who have gone unprotected, unwarned into pain: “Which beast for you, Beauty? / Which red-white-clawed / spectacle / will dance on / his hind legs for you? / Every thing / you’ve ever done / has been a manacle, / soft as velvet or hard / as porcelain.”
However, what stays behind after reading this is the way in which these subjects still must be interrogated, the way in which—even in 2019—“a toy tiger, open-mouthed, harmless / (ready to bite) / the apple, fruit, pomegranate, knowledge / waiting in the wings / There is always red velvet / in the rooms owned by powerful men”. Evelyn As offers hope in its interrogation, in its willingness to confront these beasts and men and wolves, through the strength of women’s stories. It is both confession and apology, both love-letter and call to action, a book that will remind you of the importance of watching and listening to the vulnerable around you.
—Review by Joy Clark