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Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 14, 2011
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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 the Hardcover edition.
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 the Hardcover edition.
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Her early high school years are made bearable through an intense friendship with the similarly inclined Jack. However, Evie’s life takes a dramatic turn with the arrival of a part-time drama teacher Harrison Rourke. She is completed taken aback with his good looks, virility, and quiet intensity. Even though Rourke fades in and out of her life over the next few years, her obsession with him never dims. Everything and everyone come up short in comparison to him.
It might be interesting to know someone like Evie – if such a person would even let you. But then again, like this book, it might all become wearisome. How much angst can one take? By the end of the book, one is hoping that there can be some sort of resolution for Evie.
In fact, the whole plot, or lack of a plot, seemed designed to allow the author to indulge in over-writing and melodrama. How else to explain certain decisions made by the characters? SPOILER ALERT. Why, for example, does Rourke have to leave at the end of the summer in Montauk or why can't Evie go with him? Why can't the two of them be together? There is no explanation other than some underdeveloped subplot about his boxing career and some elliptical references to his believing that Mark would be better for her. Why in the world would Rourke think that when he watched Mark abandon some other girl just a year before? Why doesn't Evie leave when she discovers the depth of Mark's lies and depravity, and when he seems well on his way to becoming a heroin addict? She is (supposedly) smart, college-educated, talented, good-looking and capable. Are we really supposed to believe it's because she is devastated by a broken heart for four years? That's absurd. I would suspect that most readers have had a broken heart. I've had a broken heart. You get over it. That's what people do. And Evie's inability to muster that will is just irritating.
Another issue with this book is that Evie, who is presumably supposed to be the book's center, is the least interesting person in the novel by a wide margin. The people surrounding her--Jack (angsty, artsy high school boyfriend turned drug addict), Rourke (physically beautifully, emotionally confounding love of her life), Mark (the rich, cruel, manipulative college boyfriend who evokes Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho" but without the fully formed homicidal tendencies)and Rob (the friend with a heart of gold and mob connections who seems to also be in love with Evie)--were all infinitely better characters. Honestly, I couldn't have cared less what happened to Evie. By the end of the book, I was so tired of her frozen ennui that I thought everyone would be better off without her.
Earlier this year I read "Less Than Zero" by Bret Easton Ellis. It is an interesting counterpoint to this novel. The books are set in roughly the same time period, with "Less Than Zero" taking place in L.A. vs. NYC. Both deal with characters awash in money, cocaine and questionable morality. But "Less Than Zero" tells a lean, terrible story with no muss and no fuss. At the end of the day, it is a better snapshot of that moment in time than this novel, which fails because it is trying so, so, so hard to be self-aware.