Book Reviews Butterworth-McDermott, Christine. Evelyn As. Burlington, VT: Fomite Press, 2019. 126 pages. $12.00. Evelyn As, Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s second full-length poetry collection, is a series of portrait poems about Evelyn Nesbit, child model and chorus girl. They follow her from a young girl who learns from her mother how to collect the rent from boarders because “they’ll be persuaded by your face,” to a young teenager who is sucked down and broken within the underworld of perverse, middle-aged men where “there’s a pain and there’s nothing/except the howling dark.” This is a narrative that uses the unrelenting darkness of fairy tales and myths as the mode to tell the stories of Evelyn Nesbit—ranging from Persephone to Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel to Snow White. In this narrative, we watch these stories read to her at a young age by her father, and then we see them enacted upon her. Wolves and Hades are disguised as men who hunt down Evelyn and drag her into the darkest parts of humanity. A red velvet swing, a mirror room, and a tower: things that, when read, are settings out of the fairy tale, but instead are very real and horrific moments in Evelyn Nesbit’s life. Nothing about Stanford White and Harry Kendall Thaw shines of love and caring, but all that Evelyn’s mother ever said to her rings in her ears as she stares back at these men, whose teeth are bared: “go with the nice man.” More often than not in literature, “flashes of light” are symbolic of epiphanies—realizations that changes and corrections are to be made—but for Evelyn Nesbit, Butterworth-McDermott has made “flashes” and “light” a dissonant chorus, a fragmented image that consistently pops around Evelyn when she is making a move. With these flashes, something is always “waiting in the wings.” Sometimes this is Stanford White or Harry Kendall Thaw. Other times, it’s knowledge, but never the kind of knowledge that serves a person well. It’s the darker kind of knowledge—the knowledge gained in the darkness of fairy tales, the kind that is only gained in hindsight. After the cameras are turned off, and the stage lights have faded, and the “three thousand/Chinese lanterns/hung by Stanford White” are brought down, there is a darkness that permeates the page, and we realize that Evelyn has had only artificial light guiding her through this world. This is fitting for a book that directly asks the question: “Is it necessary to see things clearly?” The answer is very clear, and it is absolutely devastating to know that sometimes the real light, the epiphanic kind of light, does not come until it is too late. At that point, as the speaker evokes, we are left calling backward, “Evelyn, my warning from this distance has no value/Evelyn, my rage has nowhere to go.” Still, this empathy, this heightened and confusing emotion, has so much value. Evelyn As is a collection of poetry that assembles snapshots of a life in
Crab Orchard Review
Book review supplement August 2019.