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Anthropology of an American Girl Hardcover – January 15, 2004

3.3 out of 5 stars 163 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2010: Eveline Auerbach, the heroine of Anthropology of an American Girl, observes at one point that "pain becomes its own story." That may be the best way to begin talking about Hilary Thayer Hamann's arresting and provocative coming-of-age novel, set against the twilight years of Eveline's adolescence and the dawn of the 1980s--a decade made all the more infamous by books like American Psycho and Bright Lights, Big City. Hamann's 600-page epic is a worthy and welcome successor to those novels, as it charts the wistful and unsteady course of a girl experiencing the often brutal paradox of being a woman. Eveline is a curious soul. Much of her story unfolds in interior monologues that display how acutely--and how honestly--she observes herself and the men who lay claim to her, and no thought of hers is left unturned: she reflects with great tenderness both the guileless narcissism and the strange liberty of being young. Anthropology of an American Girl is an accomplished and absorbing work of fiction, resonant and romantic in the grandest sense, that will remind you what a great American novel really is. --Anne Bartholomew --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it'd read a lot like this. Originally a self-published cult hit in 2003 (since reedited), Hamann's debut traces the sensual, passionate, and lonely interior of a young woman artist growing up in windswept East Hampton at the end of the 1970s. The book begins as a two-pronged tragedy befalls 17-year-old narrator Eveline: her best friend's mother (more maternal than her own) dies, and Eveline is raped by two high school students. Her brutalized interior, exquisitely rendered by Hamann, leads Eveline to a series of self-realizations that bears obvious comparison to that iconic nonconformist Holden Caulfield. The difference, though, is Eveline's femininity threatens to subsume her fragility. Over the course of the book, she falls deeply in love with a stormy figure who helps bring her to disturbing conclusions. Eveline—bent on self-destruction but capable of deep passion, stifled by circumstance but constantly blossoming—is a marvelously complex and tragic figure of disconnection, startlingly real and exposed at all times. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vernacular Press; First Edition edition (January 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0974026670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0974026671
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,947,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If J.D. Salinger and Jane Austin had a love child, it would likely have been Hilary Thayer Hamann. This is a coming-of-age book, a book about the transformative power of love in an era of deceit, and in many ways, it's a "retro" book.

First, it's instructive to mention what the book is NOT: it's not about grand themes or convoluted messages. It's not about the plots that normally sell -- mysteries, thriller, tabloids themes and the like. What it IS at its core is a book about one girl, Eveline Auberbach, as she navigates her early adulthood. Eveline is set in bold relief against three men who will factor largely in her life: the tortured and self-destructive Jack, her first boyfriend...the moneyed and morally corrupt Mark, who will woo her...and the love of her life, Harrison Rourke who will bring her to the edge of the foreign land of loneliness. The loneliness is defined as "the panic, the sweeping hysteria that comes not when you are without others, but when you are without yourself, adrift."

The anthropological artifacts of America are scattered throughout the book--the khakis, loafers and Lacoste shirts, the songs that defined the times, the cars, the furnishings. But the book is more about emotions than it is about the outer world. Evaline -- who must pick her way through the debris of divorce, death, love, passion, unbridled sexuality, and greed -- says about herself: "I was an American girl; I possessed what our culture valued most -- independence and blind courage...My days were simple, numb and narrow. My impressions collected in layers like generations of rock beneath earth, impacted to form a single idea -- that I was happy."

But IS Evaline happy? At the beginning, her voice is vivid and pure and hopeful. And later? She begins to shut down.
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Wow. After a lot of skimming, groaning, and perseverance I finished this book. I was really looking forward to this one, given all of the rave reviews, and am scratching my head now trying to figure out what the h*ll just happened. First, the good stuff: the book is compulsively readable for the first several hundred pages. After that, it becomes compulsively skimmable.

At 600 pages, it's hard to believe that the entire plot involves the details of our miserable heroine's passive and angst-ridden journey through three relationships (one in high-school, one in college, and one post-college). Towards the beginning of the book, Evie is painted as an independent, thoughtful, tortured outcast (by choice), which I think may be the impetus for comparisons to Holden Caulfield? The problem is that this character does not develop - at all. As the story progresses, Evie seems more and more like a caricature, and an unlikeable one, at that. She is described as irresistible to all men, with her tragic eyes and waif-like appearance. It is mentioned throughout the book that she does not eat and people are constantly expressing concern over her "skin-and-bones" appearance and her pale, translucent skin. Of course, this only makes the men in the book (ALL of them, seemingly!) want to rescue her from herself all the more! And the beauty of it is, she lets them! As far as I could tell, she never actually does anything in the entire book besides bounce from man to man, talking about how tortured she is along the way (if I'm over-using the word in this review, it's only because the sentiment is so over-used in the book). She wallows in her angst over the break-up of a relationship with a (surprise!) tortured, artistic man, Rourke.
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Format: Hardcover
This book sorely disappointed me. The skillful, beautiful use of language lured me at first into thinking I was reading a novel of substance. As the plot and characters developed, I slowly came to realize I was reading a flimsy, soap-opera romance hiding under a glossy veneer of sophistication. I'm not above a good beach read, but I came to loathe the waifish, self-absorbed protagonist who seems to be the object of every man's desire and every woman's scorn. Hardly a modern day heroine, she bounces from one man to the next, each one overpowering her with either superior intellect, virility, or cunning and wealth. Comparisons to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are completely specious. For two hundred years women have rallied to those books to immerse themselves in ennobling female characters and coherent social criticisms. Hilary Thayer Hamann, I suspect, despises her gender, and in spite of a doorstopping 600 pages failed to connect her random musings into anything of lasting importance.
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Imagine leaving your home every single day with a magnifying glass and a notepad. You have to examine every detail of the front door (for example, the shine of the knob, the grain of the wood) before you open it, and then you must describe it in florid prose. That is exactly how this book goes.

Set in the late 70's and early 80's, the story follows the life of a high school student, Eveline, who is on the cusp of womanhood. For the good points: in places the writing was gorgeous and there were some insights that deserve some consideration. Sadly, the bad points of the book overwhelm these.

I could not agree more with the other reviewers who recommend draconian editing to this book. I hung in there and read every word for the first 40% of the book, at which time I got fed up and skimmed the rest of the way through. There is a kernel of a story here, but it is hidden in a fog of endless detail. We are treated to Eveline's every thought on every subject imaginable, in excruciating detail. Often these "deep" thoughts are translated into eye-rollingly overwrought and stilted dialogue between purported adolescents, who, let's face it, don't often entertain these types of musings, even when on drugs. Further, Eveline herself is not exactly a protagonist that one wants to root for. She is a young woman who makes poor decisions with alarming regularity but luckily has a man to bail her out every time, because she is so hauntingly beautiful.

In summary, this is not a book I would recommend to anyone. With some major editing (of, no joke, at least half of the text), there might be something there. Only fleeting glimpses of some really talented writing and scattered seeds of insights saved this book from getting a one-star review from me.
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