Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Conclusion: An Angsty Anthropology


Hilary Thayer Hamann’s Anthropology of an American Girl is one of those books you pick up and are like, “Whoa. This will be a challenge.” Because it’s 600 pages and hardbound…mega heavy and not small purse friendly.

But, it’s also the kind you start and hope will be a great, long ride. A chunkster by its very definition.

Eveline Auerbach is the “American Girl” of this novel—a high school student of the late 1970s. Hamann takes us through a handful of Eveline’s adolescent/young adult years as she finishes high school, attends NYU (shout out!), and, essentially, grows up in the pre-technological early 1980s.

I say Eveline “grows up” in this novel because she does. But it’s not that first foray into maturity that comes in your mid-teens…its that second big jump that doesn’t feel as monumental because it doesn’t come with a driver’s license or the ability to vote. This is the “growing up” that comes with emotional turbulence, when your little bubble bursts and the world suddenly seems bigger and scarier and everything seems more real, when you suddenly realize that you are living as part of the world and not just observing it. For Eveline, this came through her relationship with Rourke, a college age-ish guy who helped with the yearly high school drama production.

Eveline seems to me to be the kind of girl that claims to be soooooo misunderstood, that is, if she cared enough about herself to self-identify. She’s introspective and notices everything. For the span of the novel, it’s like she’s trying to find her own identity but finds it easier to just meld with the people around her. From the author’s tone, Eveline constantly sounds mopey. She seems depressed to the point where she’s just apathetic, rolling with life rather than actively living it. For this reason, I never really liked Eveline. It took her about 580 pages to stand up and participate in her life. She reminded me a lot of Noa Weber who just couldn’t get over a guy she was never really with. I never understood how Eveline’s life could be so affected by this relationship, because it was never described in great detail…or at least great enough detail that made me care and sympathize with her.

But oh, you know what was lovely? Hamann’s language. Her words cause you to gently drift through this novel.

“He wanted me to know he regretted using words on me so soon after using words on them and that the words reserved for me were different words” (p 176).

“Being in love is like leaning on a broken reed. It is to be precariously balanced, to teeter between the vertical and the horizontal. It’s like war: it’s to demand of one’s sensibilities the impossible—to expect paranoia to coexist with faith, chance with design, to enlist suspicion insensibly in certain regards and suppress it blindly in others” (p. 276).

“Maybe a deer has feelings, maybe the origin of a child is in the protoplasm; frankly, it’s impossible to know. And yet, people keep trying to assign logic to sensation and consciousness in beings and entities other than themselves” (p. 377).

Also, you know what else is cool? This novel was originally self-published and was more recently picked up by Random House. Sweet little success story there.

I did enjoy this one. Quite a lot. Despite not really liking Eveline, I wanted to know how it all turned out. A worthwhile chunkster.

1 comment:

Kaye said…

I love the story and the title