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Summary and book reviews of Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

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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Book Summary

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.

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.

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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel begins with a description of Eveline Auerbach and Kate Cassirer, teenagers who have been best friends since childhood. Discuss the nature of their friendship.  Discuss the role of female friendship in the novel.
  2. Discuss the dissolving bonds of Eveline's early friendships as she journeys from the relative safety of childhood to the relative dangers, instability, and compromise of adulthood.
  3. Evie goes from being a poor girl living freely to being a wealthy young woman living a compromised life and sacrificing opportunities for fully realized life and love. What does the author seem to be saying about aspirations?
  4. There are three men in Evie's life: Jack Fleming, Mark Ross, and Harrison Rourke. Discuss...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

The Providence Journal

Gorgeous detail and nuanced thought … an insightful, page-turning read.

Columbia Spectator

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.

Ms. Magazine

A cinematic and emotionally ripe debut novel ... in gorgeous language and with brilliant observation.

The East Hampton Star

The language immersion that takes place while reading the novel is mesmerizing.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it’d read a lot like this.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Intelligent and without a false note - a memorable work.

Library Journal

Henry James meets the 21st century.

Reader Reviews

Robin

Scattered
Passages of this book moved me...I thought the author had moments of pure brilliance. BUT, it was too long, jumped all over the place and in the end the story seemed ridiculously dramatic and just...so unbelievable. No American girl I've ever ...   Read More

janice kincaid

Don't do it!!!
I had the highest of hopes when I purchased this book. Publisher's Weekly had a great recommendation, 'O' Magazine has an endorsement on the front... everything seemed to point to 'Go'. I am not one to ever put a book down. I feel it is somehow ...   Read More

Breader

Long, dull and tedious
I could not finish this book. Many reviews relate the pertinent details and all are more interesting than the book itself. Long, dull and tedious sums it up. Save your strength and read something else.

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Beyond the Book

Self-Publishing Successes

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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