(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Eve’s Story” is a clear statement about established religion and its most evangelistic proponents. The poem is told from the viewpoint of a sixteen-year-old girl who leaves home after her father strangles a deformed kitten; she winds up in an evangelist’s tent.

The girl is quickly seduced by the evangelist. She becomes his servant, even helping him to procure prostitutes. When he becomes increasingly successful, the girl is edged out of his inner circle by more photogenic women: “We had gone video,/ but I wasn’t in them./ I did not fit his image anymore./ Cheryl did, with her blue contacts, blonde hair,/ and silicone implants.” The girl avenges herself by filming the evangelist engaged in a lurid sex act and exposing him as a hypocrite. His followers desert him, and blond, blue-eyed Cheryl becomes a talk-show celebrity. Yet the speaker stays with the fallen preacher, explaining, “So now we live like any other/ retired couple in Sarasota.”

Ai is commenting not merely upon the preacher himself but also upon the religious system that has produced him and people like him: “Of a sudden, I realize/ this is how Eve must have done it./ The snake and God were only props/ she discarded when she left Adam/ writhing on the ground.” Unlike most of Ai’s narrators, this girl inspires real compassion and real pity. She is clearly a victim of other people’s actions. The actual blame is still hard to place. Is it the preacher himself who is to blame? Is it the religion he espouses? Or, in the final analysis, is it God who is to blame? If sex is original sin, and also one of the most pleasant actions a human being can experience, does this mean that it is sinful to have fun?

As always in Ai’s work, the reader is not told very much about the girl in question, whether, for example, she is black or white, Christian, another religion, or atheist. She is simply presented as having been victimized by a religious system and a man who embodies it. The reader is also confused about how much blame to lay on the evangelist; perhaps he, too, should be considered a victim.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cramer, Steven. Review of Fate, by Ai. Poetry 159 (November, 1991): 108-111.

Kilcup, Karen. “Dialogues of the Self: Toward a Theory of (Re)reading Ai.” Journal of Gender Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1998): 5-20.

Monaghan, Pat. Review of Fate, by Ai. Booklist 87 (January 1, 1991): 902.

Ostriker, Alicia. Review of Sin, by Ai. Poetry 144 (January, 1987): 231-237.

Seidman, Hugh. Review of Killing Floor, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1979, 14.

Seshadri, Vijay. Review of Dread, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2003.