Review: Evidence Of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, And Fictions
These are some book reviews from Prof. Kathryn Kysar's English 2281 during the Spring 2021 semester. The student's names reviews are presented in alphabetical order.
My great-great-grandfather came to America from Denmark alone at 14. I’ve heard the story a few times. On a trip to Ellis Island, I spent a while searching the names memorialized before learning he probably arrived somewhere. My curiosity remains steady, but mild in comparison to the seemingly painful need others have towards uncovering their family’s history. Evidence of V, advertised on the cover as “a novel of fragments, facts, and fictions,” is the product of such a search, in a collage of narrative snapshots, historical excerpts, and poetic snippets, with interludes from the modern day acting as a framing device.
The story follows V, a 15 year old girl in 1930s Minneapolis, modeled vaguely after Sheila O’Connor’s grandmother. From her first appearance, skipping school to earn money dancing for strangers on the street, V is at odds with the dominant values of America at the time. She is “discovered” by Mr. C, a nightclub owner with illegal business dealings, who makes her an entertainer. They bond over their shared ostracism, him being a Jewish man and her being a young woman. They begin a relationship, he calls her Little Fox, and she visits him at his home. It’s almost sweet enough to obscure its predatory nature. They even conceive a child: the narrator’s mother, June. However, V is caught, charged with “immorality,” and incarcerated in a “school” to teach her how to be a proper woman.
Whether this story and its elements are fact or fiction is left intentionally, almost aggressively ambiguous. One page outright questions the veracity of the book and the narrator’s truthfulness with a True/False test. Fragmentation pervades the book. Most characters have only one name, and V and Mr. C are denied even that. Chapters act like snapshots of a single scene, sometimes less than a page long. The sentences themselves are often fragments, more resembling prose poetry than straight prose. Actual poems are injected between scenes, bracketed away from the narrative, and often pondering how real it all can be.
But it isn’t all fiction. Minnesota Home School for Girls at Sauk Centre was as real as the photos O’Connor provides. Data and quotations from historical sources list the regiments V was subject to, and attempt to justify “immorality” as a punishable offence. As for V’s reality…
June, the narrator’s mother, goes to get her birth certificate after it is unsealed by the court. She initially refuses to believe it’s hers, but she eventually leaves with it. Through their ensuing research, the question of what happened to V remains like an open wound, causing pain to her daughter and granddaughter decades later. The novel, to me, read like pained memories, with a bit of fiction filling in the gaps between fragments.
Samuel King is a student trying for a Creative Writing Certificate at Anoka-Ramsey, before going elsewhere to get a degree in philosophy.
Sheila O’Connor’s Evidence of V is a genre-defying novel, which combines elements of fact and fiction to tell the story of O’Connor’s maternal grandmother V, who is a young singer who hopes to be a star in Minneapolis. The novel is placed in the 1930’s, where the standards of immorality contrast many of today’s values. After an unplanned pregnancy, she battles the system and its inaccurate claims of reformation for young mothers. Although she is a child and a victim of injustice and abuse, her resiliency and hope shine throughout her story. The story is captivating, from the remarkable character of V, to the unearthing of the startling practices of Minnesotan reform schools.
O’Connor’s ability to dance between historical facts and creative fiction is the foundation of the novel. The novel is broken into small sections-some telling a powerful narrative of V’s story, while others are excerpts of historical documents. There are lists, statistics, and pictures utilized to build credibility and reveal widely unknown aspects of reformation schools. This overlooked calamity in history is exposed through fact, while simultaneously, the story of V is told through fiction.
The characterization of V creates an unforgettable young woman. She is complicated, at many points broken but trying hard to change her situation. She grows up, a victim of abuse that is instead treated as a “delinquent child” or “sex delinquent.” As the turmoil she faces thickens, her willfulness and wistfulness develop her into a symbol of the victims of this injustice, of the girls who “get started on the wrong foot.” Her story is not only about the girls incarcerated in the 1930’s. It is about the victims of sexual abuse today and of the future.
Evidence of V reveals themes of misogyny, abuse and injustice. V, seeking affection and love, becomes a victim to sexual abuse and is blamed for it. These themes are still prevalent in our society- the shame young survivors of sexual abuse can often face and the mistaken accountability they often feel for another’s actions. In a fragment of fact, O’Connor exposes the disproportional percentage of black girls incarcerated when compared to the population. V’s story is important and meaningful, but these themes transcend beyond a single storyline.
Sheila O’Connor allows for her complicated family history to be the center of a genre-defying piece. Evidence of V combines fact and fiction into a powerful story that evokes emotions and displays important themes. As a masterful creation of fiction, a well-written collection of facts and a deeply moving story, Evidence of V is a powerful piece of literature.
Julia Kramer is a student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, working towards her Associate of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing.
For readers who enjoy memoir and historical fiction, Sheila O’Connor’s book Evidence of V uniquely combines the two. The author pieces together historic and legal records she gathers and masterfully sculpts it into a book composed of poetry, facts, and fiction about O’Connor’s maternal grandmother, V.
Through V’s story, O’Connor brings to light the incarceration of young girls for truancy or immorality at the Minnesota Home School for Girls in Sauk Centre during the 1930s (immorality charges often meant that a young woman was pregnant). Rather than helping girls who were often victims of sexual or physical abuse, the girls were punished in a system whose stated purpose was to make “a social readjustment of the girl” and to reform them into “decent wives and mothers and home-makers.”
As O’Connor and her mother, June, paged through documents, the heartbreak of discoveries can be felt through June’s words, “I was breastfed for three months? I lived there as a baby? But then they took me?”
June read in one document, “V intends to keep her baby,” yet it wasn’t what V was allowed to do. Young girls like V were deemed unable to take care of their own children, yet the same girls were often put into service, taking care of someone else’s child.
When the details of V’s life can’t be known, O’Connor relies on fictional imaginings of her grandmother to depict the girl who was almost erased from her family’s story. O’Connor’s frustration over missing or inadequate information comes through when the author writes, “Cryptic case notes left inside V’s file. But does a file count as fact? Or isn’t every rendering a lie?”
O’Connor’s book is both a historic account of past times and one family’s story, but it is also more than that. Our justice system and institutions have had an ongoing role in the US history of racial injustice, poverty, and inequalities. In order to fix the present, it helps to have knowledge and understanding of the past.
In the story, O’Connor writes several lines about why she has researched and written her book: “Because I need to find her. Because V leapt into traffic, a shock on someone’s windshield. Because June lost V, lost her family’s story. Because we are living in V’s white space where very little can be known.”
Except now we know enough about V and how she was victimized by a system that said it was there to help girls to not want this to be another woman’s or family’s story. The book doesn’t provide detailed solutions to the problems it raises, but it’s a good place to begin thinking about the ramifications of doing nothing to change the existing systems.
Maery Rose lives in the Twin Cities where her goal is to live life as though it’s an adventure story, but so far it’s been a comedy. She writes essays, short stories, and memoir on the stuff of being human in a weird world.
Sheila O’Connor, author of Evidence of V: A novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions, translates the life of her maternal grandmother from snippets found in the dusty archives she and her mother are able to uncover. This story follows the once-hidden life of V, a 15-year-old girl blooming in a city life planted in Minneapolis, Minnesota. V, a bright-eyed young woman in the 1930s, is brimming with fresh dreams – ready to be a big star, an adult, in love. Dealt the early death of her biological father, V is left with a less-than-connected mother and tyrannical step-father, and three older sisters (Rose, Ida, and Lydia) who share in the continuation of this daunting narrative. V finds herself skipping school, running the streets with her best friend, Em, singing for tips, and working at a local club. When this behavior captures the attention of law enforcement, she is forced to face a sad reality common to many young women in American history – at the Minnesota Home School for Girls. Now V must navigate adulthood in a home that is not hers, under strict rules, until she turns 21 – sentenced as a juvenile, to be returned a lady.
This story encompasses themes of secrets, loss, and generational trauma. V’s existence is concealed by nearly everyone she encountered in her life, a secret brought to many graves. Sheila O’Connor sets out with her mother (V’s daughter), June, to track down a history of a life unknown – one that could help explain a lot about their own lives. O’Connor must trudge through V’s “white space” – the blank novel of her mother’s history – in order to escape her own blank space. This story perpetuates the idea that loss isn’t conclusive; it grows like a tree, branching off and furthering the trauma. Similarity might be found in this spreading; it might be found that loss is, in some ways, inevitable, even if it is not directly yours.
Awarded the Independent Publisher Book Award for U.S. Midwest – Best Regional Fiction, Evidence of V translates this young life in an almost palpable way. O’Connor uses poetic techniques as well as a great mix of her own style to create such a distinctive story-type. This book could formulate a large audience of both young readers, as well as more mature readers in search of a very eye-opening description of a history that many might not know existed in many states outside and within Minnesota. Though it is a story of growth and coming-of-age, it does not leave out mature content that might not be suitable for a youthful audience. Alike a perfectly organized documentary, this book incorporates all of the historical fragments and texture of a great story; easy to follow and effectively arranged.
Tiffany Schroeder is an English student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, working toward her AA in psychology. She will be furthering her writing career after she graduates from Anoka Ramsey Community College.
Evidence Of V, by Sheila O’Connor, tells the story of her maternal grandmother pieced together with facts, fiction, and poetry, all of which forms a novel that defines postmodernism. The book is focused on the journey of the titular character and O’Connor herself as she explores her family’s past. From the cold streets of Minneapolis, readers accompany V, a small girl from a broken home with big dreams, as she navigates an even colder world. O’Connor also uses V’s story to bring attention to the scarcely known nationwide practice of incarcerating young girls deemed sexual deviants who lacked morals. However, many of them were victims of sexual abuse themselves.
Through real-world excerpts and statistics from the Minnesota Home School for Girls at Sauk Centre, Evidence of V educates its audience on the cruel state-sponsored treatment that victims of abuse, many of whom were under the age of 21, faced. Through the artistry of O’Connor, Evidence of V entertains its readers with a tale fashioned from facts and fiction. O’Connor has crafted A tale that invokes feelings of sadness and outrage. Whether it be the stripping of an infant from its mother or the instances of abuse that go unpunished, Evidence of V provokes emotion.
The character of V is the barb on the tip of the hook. O’Connor could have easily portrayed her grandmother as a soft and timid child, but instead, she writes V as a fighter. “Miss Tate wants V to crumble, but she won’t. instead, V shucks the next husk slower still, calls Miss Tate a bitch, hurls her half-shuck cob across the room.” However, V is also flawed. O’Connor has masterfully blended a combination of delinquency and innocence. I found myself rooting for V to reclaim what was hers and find freedom, but at the same time, I found myself rooting against her desire to return to her abuser.
O’Connor also manages to balance telling V’s story while also keeping the topic of incarcerating young girls prevalent throughout the book. There is a duality to Evidence of V; It is a novel comprised of facts and fiction. It is also a window into a past long forgotten beneath the sea of government-sponsored institutional malpractices. Evidence of V Is the story of a victim made out to be a villain. It is the story of a woman trying to make sense of her past. It is the story of thousands of other women, not just here in Minnesota but across the country. It is the story of those sentenced and of those born and stripped away. Sheila O’Conner’s Evidence of V is evidence of a heinously flawed system and a past that should not be forgotten.
Tyler Vaughn is an English student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
Evidence of V Review
In an aptly forgotten kind of “cancel culture” predating the term, names of “sexually delinquent” women are wiped away – not even the depths of the digital archive contains a trace of their memory. They aren’t deserving of being at least remembered negatively as a Hester Prynne, of being remembered by a scarlet letter “A,” or of being remembered at all – they are history.
That’s why all Sheila O’Connor knows about her grandmother, a 1930’s dancer incarcerated for “sex delinquency” at the age of 15, is the abbreviation in her court records, “V.” “V” like Velma; “V” like Violet; but most of all, “V” as in void, vilified, and vacant. “V” as in all the things that she became for losing another “V,” virginity.
O’Connor’s novel in fragments titled Evidence of V combines scraps of the information and imagination to tell the story of the grandmother neither she nor her mother ever knew. After scouring courts records and archives to get her questions answered, O’Connor found nothing but fragments that yielded more questions. She found ambiguities but no answers. Utilizing excerpts of poetry, prose, and legal documents, O’Connor is left to craft the answers herself — to fill in the blanks between the scarce knowledge and use “fiction as survival.”
But the reader shouldn’t be fooled by the label of make-believe. Although deemed as a novel told in “facts and fictions,” O’Connor rivetingly constructs the latter in such an emotionally convincing manner – it becomes impossible to read the poignantly humanizing “fictions” of V’s story and not believe it to be more factual than the misogynistic legal narrative it’s placed aside. We accompany the nightclub showgirl from her glitzy dance numbers to the sexual criminality that it lands her, discovering her un-bending charisma and fiery charm. The reader is left questioning just as O’Connor does, “does what is written in a file count as fact?”
The book’s highlight is its multi-faceted writing style, which emulates the very phenomenon O’Connor describes, uncertainty. O’Connor meta-writes, posing questions to about the validity of the “facts.” She asks, “perhaps in 1938 punished V was spared the tubbings? I will leave that to the reader to decide.” Through her brilliant meta-writing, O’Connor gives the reader a powerful glimpse of the magnitude of loss and erasure.
Evidence of V fills in one gaping societal void. It movingly tells the neglected stories of sexual shaming that didn’t exist for men in both V and Hester Prynne’s time, and the double standard that still manifests in our current justice system. This book can hopefully be a starting conversation on a phenomenon that will one day not have to rely on fiction to fill the space between alleged facts.
Sana Wazwaz is a student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College studying creative writing and political science.