Anthropology of an American Girl

Written by Hilary Thayer Hamann
Review by Nanette Donohue

Literature is riddled with coming-of-age stories. The drama of adolescence lends itself to gripping narrative – first love, first heartbreak, self-discovery. One of the latest additions to the coming-of-age canon is Hamann’s debut, originally self-published in 2003 but re-edited in a new edition. Eveline Auerbach is seventeen years old, lovely and fragile, with the soul of an artist. Raised by her indifferent mother in East Hampton, New York, she grows up with a rotating cast of strays brought home by her mother. The sprawling plot is difficult to summarize effectively, but it involves Eveline’s passionate love affair with an older (and slightly sinister) man, her recovery (or lack thereof) from a sexual assault, and her transition from adolescence to adulthood. Much of the novel focuses on Eveline’s internal monologue, recording her innermost feelings about the goings-on in her life, most of which involve relationships with men.

There are moments of exquisiteness hidden in this novel, lines that I wrote down because they resonated with me, or because they presented an idea in a way that was perfect. Eveline’s supposed self-knowledge is difficult to swallow at times, since her ways of thinking about herself and about relationships are far more sophisticated than expected, and her constant navel-gazing becomes tiresome. The highlights are the times when there’s action to break up the self-conscious self-analysis, when there’s action rather than layer upon layer of feeling. Hamann does capture the time (late 1970s/early 1980s) nicely, but there’s a lot to wade through to get to the hidden gems of this novel.