three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Anthropology of an American Girl.epsHilary Thayer Hamann is a New York native and an NYU graduate. Her originally self-published and semiautobiographical debut novel, Anthropology of an American Girl, was an instant hit in 2003 and sold out of its original 5,000 copies. This version has been revised and repackaged with a new publisher.

The Story: In Manhattan and Long Island in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a bright young woman struggles to find her place in the world. Eveline "Evie" Auerbach is wrapping up her senior year at an East Hampton high school. Raised by a mildly neglectful single mom, she is devastated by the death of her best friend’s mother, to whom she frequently turned for maternal guidance. After falling hard for a handsome young substitute teacher and suffering through years with other boyfriends, she learns a lesson in heartbreak that will stay with her for a long time.
Spiegel & Grau. 624 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780385527149

Dallas Morning News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This impressive debut is epic but not overwrought, and brilliant without the slightest hint of smugness. ... [A] rare kind of novel--at once sprawling and intimate--whose excellence matches its grand ambition." Carmela Ciuraru

Chicago Sun Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s easy to get hooked by one of the most engaging, evolving voices in contemporary fiction. ... Thayer so fully imbues her characters with recognizable humanity that they stand up and demand to be heard." John Barron

St. Petersburg Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Hilary Thayer Hamann’s debut novel is really the story of a girl slowly realizing how very little independence she owns, and how easily blind surrender can be mistaken for courage. ... [A] little teenage philosophizing goes a long way, and there were times in this 606-page novel--even though the characters and story drew me along--that I wished it were tighter." Colette Bancroft

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[A]fter 600 pages, you realize what’s been missing all along: not a single giggle from any of these young girls over a period of five years; not one breath taken in mirth, no code words, no silliness, no eruptions of goofy joy. Yes, true love is serious, but please God, not that serious!" Carolyn See

USA Today 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Rather than reading a depiction of life in the sexually unfettered wild 1970s, you feel trapped inside the secret diary of a super-cool narcissist with a titanium-strength ego that no plot twist can dent. ... In terms of self-absorption, Eveline could take on Holden Caulfield in a cage match." Deirdre Donahue

Critical Summary

Angst, isolation, and blossoming sexuality are major themes in Hamann’s sprawling debut. It comes as no great surprise, then, that the original printing became a cult favorite among younger readers and that several critics compared it favorably to J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. On the other hand, most acknowledged the book could have benefited from tighter editing, and one less-than-enthusiastic reviewer found the heroine too self-absorbed for her taste: another disliked the philosophizing. Overall, however, critics hailed Anthropology of an American Girl as an impressive first work and credited Hamann with an elegant writing style "that would make a good poet jealous" (Dallas Morning News).