Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann
May 25, 2010, Spiegel & Grau


Hilary Thayer Hamann's Anthropology of an American Girl was self-published in 2003 and went on to fulfill every self-published author's dream: it became a word-of-mouth hit, selling out of its 5,000 hardcover print run. If you browse the review section of Anthropology's website, you can see how dear early readers held this book, using words like "poignantly devastating" and "mesmerizing" to describe the novel. Columbia University's student newspaper wrote, "What Catcher in the Rye did for high school youths troubled by the onslaught of adulthood, H.T. Hamann's Anthropology of an American Girl does for college women struggling to reconcile their dreams with reality."

Seven years later, the novel has been revised and republished with Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau. At 640 pages, it is a brick of a book, and my advice for you is to read with a pencil in hand, because you will want to remember sections of Hamann's rich prose as she chronicles the life of Eveline Auerbach through high school and college. Evie falls into a passionate, painful and even obsessive kind of love with Harrison Rourke, her high school's visiting drama coach. The excerpted scene takes place right after Evie has agreed to spend the summer with Rourke in Montauk:

It was there that I met myself, there that I discovered my soul’s invention, the feminine genius of me. I often thought about life beyond the summer, acknowledging that an end was imminent, that I needed to prepare. The world sloped against our door like a barren belly—I could feel it. Had I been sentenced to death, I could not have interpreted time with a fiercer consciousness—every twilight seemed to be the last, every rain the final rain, every kiss the conclusive aroma of a rose, gliding just once past your lips.

If he loved me, love wrought no change in him. He did not speak of such things, and neither did I, because words and promises are false, resolving nothing. I was an American girl; I possessed what our culture valued most—independence and blind courage. From the beginning he had been attracted to the savagery in me that matched the savagery in him, and yet, what bound us was the prospect of that soundness unraveled. I began to unlearn things I’d been taught. Often I was afraid, but my fear was a natural fear, a living fear, a fear of the unknown. I would not have exchanged it for a wasteland of security. It kept me vigilant through the night.


What are you reading today? Will you read Anthropology of an American Girl? In late May we're running an interview with Hamann on BookPage.com—so check back in a few weeks!

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