by Hilary Thayer Hamann
When I first picked up “Anthropology of an American Girl,” I approached it with sarcasm. A friend of mine had joked about developing an American Studies class about the elusive American Girl. My response to him was that Hilary Thayer Hamann’s book could potentially be the textbook. After reading Hamann’s work, though, I am flabbergasted and regret my prior scoffing.
Anthropology of an American Girl majestically follows the life of Eveline, starting with the summer before her senior year in high school. Her narrative addresses changing friendships, true love, money, and death as she struggles to remain honest and true to herself in 1970s and 1980s New York. Even though it sometimes seems as if anything and everything happens to Eveline, the artistic abstractness of Hamann’s writing allows the reader to still connect and resonate with some experience of Eveline’s. Whether you are a young woman entering adulthood, feeling lost in the whirl of life, like Eveline, or a mother, father, boyfriend, brother — everyone can either relate to a part of Eveline’s story or recognize the women in their life in the narrative.
In part, I see these personal connections arising out of Hamann’s writing style. Although she clearly sets forth a scene and emotion, her way with words and imagery leave more than enough space for a reader to step into the story. Nothing is concrete, and perhaps Hamann writes this way on purpose to bring light to the lack of clarity in life. Maybe I am over-analyzing, but either way I noticed the vagueness and abstractness of Hamann’s style from the beginning.
It is beautiful.
Also, if Hamann’s writing in any way reflects the way she perceives the world, I would love to talk with her over coffee. She easily captures the double standard that girls are held to and the ways in which society produces liars, starting with the phrase “Boys will be boys” (28). Hamann also modifies Shakespeare’s famous “All the world is a stage” line by writing, “Walking onstage is the same as walking in life…and when you reach the edge, you have to turn back to center” (181).
Hamann goes so far as to ponder the superiority of English theater by suggesting that Britain’s insular nature versus the propensity to ramble in the American “wasteland” allows the English to be more comfortable within the confines of a stage. Lastly,Hamann is able to elucidate on American consumerism by speaking of pre-decorated cakes in supermarkets. She questions the necessity of pre-decorated cakes and wonders what happens to those that aren’t purchased. Her resounding question is, “What is so psychologically valuable to the American public about the idea of excess and its obvious corollary — waste?”
“Anthropology of an American Girl” should be a required school text, but not necessarily in the humorous way I perceived it before. This book captures coming of age for a young woman and the societal absurdities that we put up with on a daily basis. Hamann’s writing only contributes to the brilliance of the plot and is of a caliber I have only seen in the works of Fitzgerald and his peers.
Note: This post was originally a part of the 2012 “Summer Summary”