Excerpt from Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Anthropology of an American Girl

A Novel

by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Anthropology of an American Girl
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  • First Published:
    May 2010, 624 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2011, 640 pages

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Print Excerpt

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.

Excerpted from Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann Copyright © 2010 by Hilary Thayer Hamann. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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