Book Review: Evidence of V by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press 2019)

Evidence of V by Sheila O’Connor
Rose Metal Press, October 2019
270 pages / buy-link

In Evidence of V O’Connor invites, no, implores the reader to join her as she seeks to peel back the intertwined layers of her family history and American history. We learn of the “immoral girl”, a subsect of history, glossed over by textbooks but one that is still relevant (and often glossed over…) today. The immoral girl, usually a young teenager, punished by incarceration for crimes that aren’t her own—in V’s case, the heinous CRIME~ of an unplanned pregnancy—a crime committed because of the life she was born into, a crime committed by another ({[spoiler alert]}: committed by an older man running a night club where she works for money and for refuge from her homelife, and yes I’m not surprised but wish I were). Here we find “V”, a representative for hundreds who could tell a similar story.

In these pages is an awakening and a documentation of the author’s personal struggle to find her family’s truth, the words piece together to create a vivid quilt of O’Connor’s thoughts and ideas surrounding her genetic history. During their time with this book, the reader will, however, feel a lack of depth in plot and character. A trait that restricts the book’s ability to transcend itself as a story, but a trait that allows and propels the book to transcend itself as socio-political art. The information we think we want as readers of literature, the information we think we need to be satisfied with the story as a story, we never get. O’Connor makes sure of this because she never gets it either and no one can give you something they don’t have to give. No one gets it and we’re left having to fill in the blanks left over from O’Connor’s filling in the blanks and what even happened really, we’re wondering? That’s the question and the problem as one. These questions and problems, as relevant today as they were in the early 20th century when V was the only one who knew the answer. We find that the “immoral” girl was/is never even given the freedom to tell her own story. And this secrecy and black hole of a family history trickles down through the generations to affect her family in subtle and shattering ways.

All of this is conveyed through an engaging blend of historical documents, family stories, well-timed and thought-provoking poems and one-liners, and extrapolated imagination. O’Connor’s background as a writer, teacher, and academic is fully evident in the composition and orchestration of it all. As she writes, she calls on us to think and reflect, to ask questions even if it’s just to fill the void left behind by silence. 

O’Connor’s story collage finds the reader drawn into the author’s personal journey of inquiry and frustration, and we as readers feel it too. Who really is V? Who was she? And why her? These questions still need to be asked and answered, and this book will hopefully spark a cascade of curiosity, anger, and a similar hunger for knowledge as is palpable in O’Connor herself. Evidence of V has synthesized the existing facts and data and infused them with the author’s raw emotion, emotion—the catalyst of change and the beginning of an answer.