When Hilary Thayer Hamann self-published Anthropology of an American Girl in 2003, she achieved an inordinate amount of success for any novel, let alone a self-published one. Now Random House is publishing a revised version of the visionary work.
The story centers on Eveline, an introspective high-school girl in East Hampton at the end of the 1970s, trying to make sense of both her gender and sexuality while finding her artistic voice. Through each of the men she attaches herself to, Eveline's sense of her sexuality changes and deepens. There is Jack, her off-kilter boyfriend who helps her through the trauma of being raped by two of her male classmates; Rourke, her high-school drama teacher turned prize fighter; and the cold and soulless Mark, who attempts to buy her love through constant luxuries and gifts.
The true value of the story lies not in the plot or the characters, which, at face value, may not seem out of the ordinary, but rather in the rich, poetic language that beautifully renders Eveline's every thought and emotion as she makes the transition from girl to woman. Even at over 600 pages, Hamann's words never meander, and she successfully explores the formation and maturation of female sexuality. One cannot help but be moved by Eveline's attempt to turn her body into a means for euphoria and connection rather than abuse and manipulation.