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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“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 pedal, and her leg swung straight back over the seat, parallel to the ground, making me think of fancy skaters. She hopped off in front of a brown ranch house —her house—lying low, like a softly sleeping thing beneath a custodial cover of tree branches. A small sign marked the rim of the lawn—For Sale. Lamb Agency. Kate bent to collect fallen leaves and twigs from around the crooked slate walkway, which seemed like a lonely project. Once when we were little, maybe about nine, Kate swore she had the distances between the slate pieces of the walkway memorized. At the time I called her a liar, not because she was one but because that’s the sort of thing to say when you’re nine. But Kate had skipped to the first tile, closed her eyes, and continued along the twisting, broken path, never missing a step, never touching grass.

“Hey, Kate,” I called. She turned to me, her face tilting into the half-light. “Remember walking on the slate with our eyes closed?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Can you still do it?”

“Sure.” She set down the sticks she’d collected and she did it like it was nothing. When she was done, she said, “You try.”

I couldn’t exactly say no, since it had been my idea in the first place. My bike made a thumping sound when I dropped it. I went to the beginning and closed my eyes, trying to imagine the path I’d taken hundreds of times before. My neck felt vulnerable with my eyes closed, as though some famished thing might come and bite it.

“No grass,” I heard her say. I raised my right leg, and while considering where to step, my foot fell, landing inches ahead, slightly to one side. “Whoa,” she said. “You just made it.”

I only had to decide where my foot was going to go before I lifted it. I only had to imagine the next step. I stepped again, and life moved to greet me. I felt particulate, like pieces matching pieces. I heard the benign crinkle of the trees as the wind swept into the branches, and the music of birds popping to life like individual instruments singled out from an orchestra. I’d gone over ten pieces of slate; four more remained. I half-swung my right leg to the right, then lowered it. My heel left a pulpy impression.

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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