Buy This Book: Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

It's pretty hard to add anything to the buzz being bestowed on Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann's debut novel, self-pubbed in 2003 and revamped for release last week by Spiegel & Gau.

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

O Magazine says, "Remember what it feels like to be 17? Hamann does, and her heroine, Eveline Auerbach, sounds like somebody many of us knew—or were. Bright but disaffected, interested in pleasing adults but also rebellious, Eveline has a deadpan delivery Holden Caulfield might envy."

The Providence Journal calls it “an extraordinary debut, updating the 19th-century social-psychological novel of romance and manners.”

Other reviews invoke Jane Austen, George Eliot, and JD Salinger, and the cover is evocative of a very specific literary time and style. One thing I love about all this is a noted absence of words like "girl power" and "estrogen." I don't recall ever seeing a book by a woman so oft compared to Salinger, and I like that we seem to have embraced the idea that icons rise above gender.

I won't even attempt to sum up the plot, which rings true and encompasses the complicated coming of age of an engaging main character. I'm not sure any woman looking back on her own initiation into reality, love, and disillusionment could nutshell it in less than the 600 pages it takes to tell this story. And it'll be impossible for women of a certain age to read this without revisiting those deeply personal passages.

From the flap:
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.
I won't lie, this is a hefty tome to slog through (or maybe I'm just less sophisticated than other readers raving about it), but the author is so adept at putting the right words in the most tantalizing order, I kept reading, even as I repeatedly asked myself "What the hell is this book about?" Ultimately, you start to realize it's about everything. Or something. Or nothing. And hormones. Which is exactly what you realize about that phase of your life once you're comfortably in your forties.

Others are welcome to their loftier takes on Evie's evolution, but as the mother of a blossoming young woman who's as thrashingly impassioned as I was at that age, I practically bit through my bottom lip by the time I got to the end. For me, this book was a painfully realistic portrait of a girl who takes herself and the world way too seriously. Like I did. And my daughter does. I ended up wanting to friend Evie on facebook just to make sure she got over herself and made it into the new century okay. (Next best thing, you can follow Hilary Thayer Hamann on twitter.)

In a PW interview, "From Underground to Random House", which centered mainly on the fact that the book was originally self-published, the author had this to say about that process:
With my husband at the time, I had a design and print company called Vernacular Press, plus a gallery in SoHo with a staff of about 10 people. We made beautiful products and decided we wanted to do really beautiful books. Our first thought was, “Let's just do something for ourselves, and then we'll send it out.” ...I am an intern magnet. I always had about five loyal, terrific college kids working with me. ...Self-publishing is difficult, because you don't really have the eyes to see. By 2007, I was exhausted, overinvested emotionally and financially. That's when we shut Vernacular, and I sent out the manuscript, again.
More on how the manuscript evolved when Hilary Thayer Hamann joins us for 3Qs tomorrow. Meanwhile, visit the book site for interesting this and that and click here to buy from IndieBound.


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