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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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Print Excerpt


“Grass!” Kate shouted. “I win!”

I opened my eyes to a flare of light. All that endured of the dark was a nostalgic radiance, like when you shut off a television and the shadow of the picture lingers like a miniscule ghost on the screen.

Kate and I sat on the front step of her parents’ house, watching the orphan moon elude the embrace of the trees. She was silent. I wondered if she too was waiting for the yellow porch light to click on, for the screen door to creak open from inside, for her mother to say, On rentre, mes cheries. Come back in, my loves.

The last time the door opened on us, Maman didn’t smile. That was May. Maman’s birthday is in May, was in May—I’m not sure how it goes with birthdays, whether they die when you do. Her arm unbended with difficulty to prop the door; when it snapped back on her, I caught it.

“Bon soir, Eveline,” she murmured.

When Kate’s mother said my name, she did not say Ev-a-line, the way most people did, but E-vleen, the first part coming from her mouth, the last part escaping from the cage of her throat. We embraced. Her shoulders floated waifishly within the vigorous circle of my arms. I wondered, When did she get so small? Kate and I followed her from room to room, and the floorboards grunted. In the dining room, her fingers skimmed the keys of her husband’s piano. He’d died one year before; immediately after burying him, Maman had become terminally ill. Sometimes you hear of people who are so much in love that they die together.

“I did have this piano tuned yesterday, Catherine,” Maman said in hobbled English, “in case you do ever wish to play again.” Ca-trine.

I adjusted the armchair Kate and I had moved to the kitchen weeks before, when the side effects of the chemotherapy had started to become severe. We lowered Maman down by the armpits, the way you bring a toddler to a stand, only in reverse. I tucked the chair under the table, inching her closer until she sighed, “Ah bien.”

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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