Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann – reviewed by Nic
Published by Spiegel & Grau the hardcover, revised edition is 624 pages.
Self-published in 2003, Hilary Thayer Hamann’s Anthropology of an American Girl touched a nerve among readers, who identified with the sexual and intellectual awakening of its heroine, a young woman on the brink of adulthood. A moving depiction of the transformative power of first love, Hamann’s first novel follows Eveline Auerbach from her high school years in East Hampton, New York, in the 1970s through her early adulthood in the moneyed, high-pressured Manhattan of the 1980s.
Centering on Evie’s fragile relationship with her family and her thwarted love affair with Harrison Rourke, a professional boxer, the novel is both a love story and an exploration of the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world. As Evie surrenders to the dazzling emotional highs of love and the crippling loneliness of heartbreak, she strives to reconcile her identity with the constraints that all relationships—whether those familial or romantic, uplifting to the spirit or quietly detrimental—inherently place on us. Though she stumbles and strains against social conventions, Evie remains a strong yet sensitive observer of the world around her, often finding beauty and meaning in unexpected places.
Newly edited and revised since its original publication, Anthropology of an American Girl is an extraordinary piece of writing, original in its vision and thrilling in its execution.
“Those who master others are strong;
Those who master themselves have true power.”
This six hundred plus page book was chosen for book club with some hesitation because of its size. And only one of us finished it in time – and it wasn’t me. Six hundred pages is six hundred pages, but with this book it took longer than usual. And it felt longer – I feel like I was reading it forever. But not in a bad way.
“Love is exactly like starlight, he’d said. By that he meant that love has its time, which is not necessarily your time.”
From the very beginning I was riveted by Evie’s head. This book follows her as a teenager, then a young adult in the 70s and 80s, in The Hamptons, then New York City. We go through experiences with her, but really, we’re in her head and experience all her thoughts – to the extreme. Hamann is very descriptive in this sense. Throughout the book I wanted to tell her to stop thinking and actually SPEAK. I know she does – I just felt like she was almost mute.
“If only women had voices.”
Her thoughts are deep. She’s philosophical, profound. She feels things that many may not. But they are her honest feelings – and they come from within. We also meet and get to know her friends and family. And they also have some powerful words.
“If you think it’s impossible to feel worse than the worst you’ve ever felt, you’re wrong. Worse than numb, worse than solitude and despair, is to possess one particle of hope, to feel the feel of fate brushing so close you think you will die.”
And for that reason – I LOVE this book.
“…you can inquire, but you’ll be judged by your ignorance… Ignorance is as good as intelligence in this contradictory world…”
Hamann writes about serious subjects that you can’t help but want to discuss with someone – war, drugs, AIDS, love. I highlighted ninety-one passages in this book because each one touched me, or made me think, or just because it was a WOW!
“When people say time heals, they are wrong. Time simply extinguishes hope.”
It’s not an easy read, nor is it a quick read. But it IS an amazing read. Although I felt so weighed down in some parts, I felt so uplifted in others. I feel like it’s a novel that you have to be prepared for – knowing that it’ll take an effort – but it will also take you to another place… And for that it’s worth that effort.
“Why should I bother getting a tan on my back? If I’m walkin’ away from you, I don’t care what you think.”