Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Photo: Studio D

Anthropology of an American Girl
624 pages; Spiegel
When a book is 600 pages long and goes by the rather grandiose name Anthropology of an American Girl, readers can be forgiven for expecting an epic, a sweeping story that defines an era. Hilary Thayer Hamann's debut novel—about a Long Island high school girl in the late 1970s—is, despite some pretentiousness, that kind of book. 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. "You could hardly tell by looking at my mother that she was a stranger to providence," she observes. As the book opens, Eveline is a senior whose principal instructor in angst is her boyfriend, Jack, but she soon abandons him for the sexier small-time boxer turned drama teacher, Harrison Rourke; later, when Rourke disappears, she takes up with a controlling rich kid masquerading as her protector. Hamann's depiction of the time and place is stunningly accurate, right down to the clubs these teenagers frequent and the song lyrics that play in their heads. Certainly, the book is overlong—originally self-published at many more pages, it was once even wordier—and at times you can't help wishing Eveline would just, well, relax. But she wouldn't be a typical, searching postadolescent then, would she? And Hamann would not have produced such a realistic, resonant, and universal story.
— Sara Nelson