Self-published in 2003, Hilary Thayer Hamanns 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, Hamanns 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 Evies 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 ones 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 relationshipswhether those familial or romantic, uplifting to the spirit or quietly detrimentalinherently 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.
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. Rains 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 spiders web. Sometimes you cant 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...
Like a hazy summer day, Anthropology of an American Girl never fully clicked into focus for me, which, oddly enough, is precisely why it so thoroughly captured my mind ... This imprecision in Evie's narration rendered the book as unresolved, as unanswerable, as many of my own teenage longings. It felt almost like a memory, despite my many points of difference with the heroine. I now feel possessive of this book, and I will be eager to watch its fortune in the marketplace, eager to talk about it with other women, eager to know how well it fits over their own memories of themselves.
(Reviewed by Amy Reading).
Full Review (1200 words).
Hilary Thayer Hamann self-published her novel with the help of her former husband's print and design company, consciously choosing to forego the typical path of agents, editors, and salespeople. The book found a disparate but fervent audience and started winning awards. A film producer inquired about movie rights and encouraged Hamann to publish it more broadly, so eventually she signed with a literary agent who sold the novel to a division of Random House. Anthropology of an American Girl fits into a small but growing category of self-published books that first found their own underground niche readerships and then, once their literary merits had been proven, were bought by mainstream publishers and re-marketed to wider audiences...
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