Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel

By Hilary Thayer Hamann
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Spiegel & Grau, (5/25/2010)
Language:English



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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.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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"Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel"
By Hilary Thayer Hamann

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated


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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2010
: Eveline Auerbach, the heroine of Anthropology of an American Girl, observes at one point that "pain becomes its own story." That may be the best way to begin talking about Hilary Thayer Hamann's arresting and provocative coming-of-age novel, set against the twilight years of Eveline's adolescence and the dawn of the 1980s--a decade made all the more infamous by books like American Psycho and Bright Lights, Big City. Hamann's 600-page epic is a worthy and welcome successor to those novels, as it charts the wistful and unsteady course of a girl experiencing the often brutal paradox of being a woman. Eveline is a curious soul. Much of her story unfolds in interior monologues that display how acutely--and how honestly--she observes herself and the men who lay claim to her, and no thought of hers is left unturned: she reflects with great tenderness both the guileless narcissism and the strange liberty of being young. Anthropology of an American Girl is an accomplished and absorbing work of fiction, resonant and romantic in the grandest sense, that will remind you what a great American novel really is. --Anne Bartholomew
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it'd read a lot like this. Originally a self-published cult hit in 2003 (since reedited), Hamann's debut traces the sensual, passionate, and lonely interior of a young woman artist growing up in windswept East Hampton at the end of the 1970s. The book begins as a two-pronged tragedy befalls 17-year-old narrator Eveline: her best friend's mother (more maternal than her own) dies, and Eveline is raped by two high school students. Her brutalized interior, exquisitely rendered by Hamann, leads Eveline to a series of self-realizations that bears obvious comparison to that iconic nonconformist Holden Caulfield. The difference, though, is Eveline's femininity threatens to subsume her fragility. Over the course of the book, she falls deeply in love with a stormy figure who helps bring her to disturbing conclusions. Eveline—bent on self-destruction but capable of deep passion, stifled by circumstance but constantly blossoming—is a marvelously complex and tragic figure of disconnection, startlingly real and exposed at all times. (May) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Review
 “Remember what if feels like to be 17?  Hamann does, and her heroine, Eveline Auerbach, sounds like somebody many of us knew—or were…Hamann’s depiction of time and place is stunningly accurate. A realistic, resonant, and universal story.”—Sara Nelson, O! Magazine 
 
 “If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it'd read a lot like this. Originally a self-published cult hit in 2003 (since reedited), Hamann's debut traces the sensual, passionate, and lonely interior of a young woman artist growing up in windswept East Hampton at the end of the 1970s…a marvelously complex and tragic figure of disconnection, startlingly real and exposed at all times.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
 
“This impressive debut is epic but not overwrought, and brilliant without the slightest hint of smugness. It has earned its pre-publication buzz, and then some. Although Hamann has set the narrative in Long Island and Manhattan in the early 1980s, it could take place anywhere in the United States. Its concerns—heartbreak, self-discovery and loss—are universal…Hamann has taken a familiar theme, coming of age, and created an utterly original novel…On every page, Hamann's prose brims with energy and insight…A rare kind of novel—at once sprawling and intimate—whose excellence matches its grand ambition.”—Dallas Morning News
 
“Moving beyond the high school years and less compressed and stylized than The Catcher in the Rye, a version of this novel was self-published in 2003 and found a huge audience, and with good reason. Reworked since then, it is more than a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story. Hamann has a hugely engaging voice and one that is rich with social and psychological insights into Reagan-era America as she creates a young, artistic woman with dreams who is buffeted about by reality.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“As vast and ambitious as the country itself…A very respectable and serious descendant of the work of D.H. Lawrence…Hamann has put together a carefully devised, coherent world, filled with opinions that need to be spoken—and heard.”—Washington Post
 
“Showcases all of the nuance and character insight of the masters.  But it also has a thrilling contemporary edge that seems to just about perfectly capture the ethos, angst and danger of a time close to our own…It’s easy to get hooked by one of the most engaging, evolving voices in contemporary fiction…Hamann so fully imbues her characters with recognizable humanity that they stand up and demand to be heard. ”—Chicago Sun Times 
 
“Haunting, wise, and hip…Hamann’s memoir-like novel, with its ear-perfect dialogue and erotic charge, captures what it was like to be a talented and intelligent 17-year old girl growing up on The East End and, later, in Manhattan. This is no chick-lit, pseudo-satiric woman’s book, however, but a sinewy coming-of-age critique, at times fiercely humorous, about love and friendship in the American eighties.”—East Hampton Independent 

“Addictive reading. Hamann inhabits the skin of a teenage girl so accurately, so effortlessly, it's a bit of a relief she has found her way into the book world.”—NPR.org 
 
“Sparkling. Well-crafted and beautifully written.”—Very Short List
 
“The novel’s every twist and turn brings a relatable and rawly emotional tale.”—Elle 
 
 “Closely observed, Holden Caulfield–ish story of teendom in Manhattan and its purlieus in the age of Me…The details are exactly right…Intelligent and without a false note—a memorable work.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
 
“Where to start with this magnificent book? With the dazzling quality of Hilary Thayer Hamann's prose? With the themes of love and loss, trust and betrayal, innocence and maturity? With the tremendous satisfaction one feels at the end? There are so many ways to praise Anthropology of an American Girl, an exceedingly intense and passionate book; it's a romance in the grand sense, a rich, affecting experience.”—Shelf Awareness
 
“Henry James meets the 21st century.”  —Library Journal
 
Anthropology of an American Girl is an extraordinary debut, updating the 19th-century social-psychological novel of romance and manners. Lake Jane Austen, George Eliot, or Edith Wharton, Hamann critiques her era and culture through the tale of a precocious young woman buffeted by the accidents, values, and consequences of her age. … More deeply, it rivets through a rawness of complex emotion. Hamann’s particular gift is her language, syntax-laden with metaphor and analogy which fly effortlessly from Evie’s philosophical, sensual way of seeing.  Gorgeous detail and nuanced thought … an insightful, page-turning read.”  —The Providence Journal
 
“What Catcher in the Rye did for high school youths troubled by the onslaught of adulthood, Anthropology of an American Girls does for college women struggling to reconcile their dreams with reality… [A] modern Jane Eyre—a stunning novel to be read and re-read.”  —Columbia Spectator
 
“A cinematic and emotionally ripe debut novel . . . in gorgeous language and with brilliant observation.”  —Ms. Magazine
 
“The language immersion that takes place while reading the novel is mesmerizing.”  
The East Hampton Star
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


Kate turned to check the darkening clouds and the white arc of her throat looked long like the neck of a preening swan. We pedaled past the mansions on Lily Pond Lane and the sky set down, resting its gravid belly against the earth.

“Hurry,” I heard her call through the clack of spokes. “Rain’s coming.”

She rode faster, and I did also, though I liked the rain and I felt grateful for the changes it wrought. Nothing is worse than the mixture of boredom and anticipation, the way the two twist together, breeding malcontentedly. I opened my mouth to the mist, trapping some of the raindrops that were just forming, and I could feel the membranes pop as I passed, which was sad, like breaking a spider’s web. Sometimes you can’t help but destroy the intricate things in life.

At Georgica Beach we sat on the concrete step of the empty lifeguard building. The bicycles lay collapsed at our ankles, rear wheels lightly spinning. Kate lit a joint and passed it to me. I drew from it slowly. It burned my throat, searing and disinfecting it, making me think of animal skins tanned to make teepees. Indians used to get high, and when they did, they felt high just the same as me.

“Still do get high,” I corrected myself. Indians aren’t extinct.

“What did you say?” Kate asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “Just thinking of Indians.”

Her left foot and my right foot were touching. They were the same size and we shared shoes. I leaned forward and played with the plastic-coated tip of her sneaker lace, poking it into the rivet holes of my Tretorns as the rain began to descend halfheartedly before us. In my knapsack I found some paper and a piece of broken charcoal, and I began to sketch Kate. The atmosphere conformed to her bones the way a pillow meets a sleeping head. I tried to recall the story of the cloth of St. Veronica—something about Christ leaving his portrait in blood or sweat on a woman’s handkerchief. I imagined the impression of Kate’s face remaining in the air after she moved away.

“Know what I mean?” she was asking, as she freed a frail charm from her turtleneck, a C for Catherine, lavishly scripted.

“Yes, I do,” I said, though I wasn’t really sure. I sensed I probably knew what she meant. Sometimes our thoughts would intertwine, and in my mind I could see them, little threads of topaz paving a tiny Persian byway.

My hand sawed across the paper I was sketching on, moving mechanically, because that’s the way to move hands when you’re high and sitting in an autumn rain. Autumn rains are different from summer ones. When I was seven, there were lots of summer rains. Or maybe seven is just the age when you become conscious of rain. That’s when I learned that when it rains in one place, it doesn’t rain all over the world. My dad and I were driving through a shower, and we reached a line where the water ended. Sun rays windmilled down, and our faces and arms turned gilded pink, the color of flamingos—or was it flamencos?

“Flamingos,” Kate corrected. “Flamenco is a type of dance.”

I remember spinning around in the front seat of the car to see water continuing to fall behind us on the highway. That was the same year I learned that everyone gets eyeglasses eventually and that there’s no beginning to traffic. That last thing bothered me a lot. Whenever I got into a car, I used to think, Today might be the day we reach the front.

The rain let up. I stood and gave Kate my hand. “Let’s go to the water.”

She stood too, wiping the sand off the back of her pants, half- turning to check herself, stretching one leg out at a five o’clock angle, the way girls do. We walked our bikes to the crest of the asphalt lot and leaned them against the split rail fence.

The sea was bloated from the tide. It was dark and thick on top: you could tell that underneath there was churning. A hurricane was forming off the coast of Cuba, and Cuba isn’t far from where we lived on the South Shore of Long Island, not in terms of weather. Surfers in black rubber sat slope-backed on boards near the jetty, waiting for waves, steady as insects feeding off a deeply breathing beast, lifting and dropping with each wheeze of their massive host. I stripped down to my underwear and T-shirt and left my clothes in a pile. Kate did the same.

The sand closest to the shore was inscribed with drop marks from the rain, and there were springy bits of seaweed the color of iodine gyrating in the chalky foam. I pushed through until I couldn’t see my calves anymore. The water was purplish and rough, and it knocked against me, setting me off balance. It felt good to succumb—sometimes you get tired, always having to be strong in yourself.

Dad said that in Normandy during World War II soldiers had to climb from ships into the sea and then onto shore. They had waded through the ocean with packs on their backs and guns in their arms. He hadn’t fought in Normandy; he just knew about it because he knows lots of things and he’s always reading. He said the men had to get on the beach and kill or be killed. I wondered what those soldiers had eaten for breakfast—scrambled eggs, maybe—all the boys lining two sides of a galley’s gangling table, hanging their heads and taking dismal forkfuls while thinking about what was awaiting them on the shore. Maybe they were thinking of getting one last thing from their lockers, where they kept pictures of their families or of their girls, or maybe just Betty Grable pinups.

It’s one thing to say you’re willing to die for your country, but it’s another thing to have to do so when the moment actually presents itself. I could not have imagined Jack or Denny or anyone from my class dying to defend America, though everyone said that war was coming again, and also the draft, just like with Vietnam. The Russians are crazy, people said. This time it’s going to be nuclear. This time we’re all going to go in one atomic blush.

Kate came alongside me. “God, this water is black.”

My mother refuses to go into the ocean. She respects it, she says, which is basically the same as saying she’s afraid. I go in because it scares me, because certain fears are natural and it’s good to distract yourself from unnatural, more terrifying kinds. For example, the ocean can kill you just like a bomb can kill you, but at least the ocean is not awful like bombs or surreal like overgrown greenhouses, or alarming like the barking sounds that flushing toilets make.

In elementary school we used to have emergency civil defense drills. The lights would go out, and we would rise in synchronized silence, obeying hushed orders and furtive hand signals, rustling like herds of terrified mice––if in fact it can be said that mice manifest in herds rather than as random runners. No one ever told us which particular emergency we were drilling to avoid. Probably Russians then too. The thought of Russians attacking eastern Long Island seemed unlikely, though it is true that East Hampton has beaches like the ones in Normandy. Beaches are a threshold.

I asked Kate if she remembered yellow alerts.

She said she did. “And red ones.”

“Didn’t we have to kneel under our desks for one kind, like this?” I put my head to my chest and locked my fingers around my neck.

“And with the other type,” Kate said, “we had to do the same thing, only in the hall.”

“Right,” I said with a shiver. “That is so fucked up.”

She cupped her mouth and imitated an implausibly tranquil public address warning. It was like a European airport voice, like the one we heard at Charles de Gaulle airport when we went to France with the French Club—sterile and cybernetic, glassy and opaque, like rocks at the bottom of a fishbowl. Kate was good with voices.

“This is a yellow alert. This is a yellow alert. Remain calm and follow the instructions of your teacher.”

“Which is which?” I asked. “Like, what do the colors mean?”

“Bombs, probably,” she said. “Different styles.”

“But a bomb is a bomb. We wouldn’t have been any safer in the hallway than in the classrooms. Why not just stay at our desks?”

There was a rush of water. Kate lost her footing.

I continued to speculate. “They must have moved us out because the classrooms had something the halls didn’t have—windows. And the only reason they would have wanted us away from windows was if something was outside, like, coming in.”

Kate said, “Christ, Evie!”

“A land attack. Gunfire. Grenades. Red alert. Death by blood. Yellow meant gas. Death by bombs. Nukes.” Jack was always talking about the massive radiation release that was coming.

The rain had passed; all that remained up above was a series of garnet streaks. The sea slapped ominously, confessing its strategic impartiality. The sea is an international sea, and the sky a universal sky. Often we forget that. Often we think that what is verging upon us is ours alone. We forget that there are other sides entirely.

Kate and I waded quickly back to shore. As soon as we could, we broke free of the backward pull of the waves and started running. We dressed, yanking our Levi’s up over our wet legs, one side, then the other. Sand got in, sticking awfully.

“Shit,” she said as we scaled the dune to the lot. “I’m never getting high with you again.”

At Mill Hill Lane Kate cut left across Main Street, and I followed. The lane was steep and tree-lined. As we rounded the bend making a right onto Meadow Way, Kate’s foot lifted from the peda...

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Hilary Thayer Hamann was born and raised in New York. After her parents divorced, she was shuttled between their respective homes in the Hamptons and the Bronx. She attended New York University, where she received a B.F.A. in Film & Television Production and Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts, an M.A. in Cinema Studies from the Graduate School of Arts and Science, and a Certificate in Anthropological Filmmaking from NYU’s Center for Media, Culture, and History.
 
Ms. Hamann edited and contributed to Categories—On The Beauty of Physics (2006), an interdisciplinary educational book that was included in Louisiana State University’s list of top 25 non-fiction books written since 1950. 
 
As the assistant to Jacques d’Amboise, founder and artistic director of the National Dance Institute, Ms. Hamann produced We Real Cool, a short film based on the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, directed by Academy Award-winning director Emile Ardolino. She also coordinated an international exchange with students from America and the then Soviet Union based on literature, music, and art. She has worked in New York’s film, publishing, and entertainment industries, and is co-director ofFilms on the Haywall, a classic film series in Bridgehampton, New York. 
 
Ms. Hamann lives in Manhattan and on Long Island.



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