The book tells the story of Eveline Auerbach from her high school years in 1970s East Hampton to her early adult years in the 1980s. The story follows Evie’s family struggles, her relationships with men, and her attempt to find a place where she belongs — and find herself.
There is much about this novel that still feels a bit like a self-published book. It is thick, which isn’t usually a problem if well-crafted, but much of the story feels like it is excess fluff. It is often hard to get to the meat of the matter and peel back the layers.
I read this book right after I finished The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and thought it would be interesting to read something by a woman about a woman’s journey during the same period that Eugenides’ text explores. I thought it might fill some of the gaps I felt Eugenides’ book suffered from.
Instead I finished Anthropology of an American Girl with a sense that this book was semi-autobiographical and was too closely entwined with the author’s personal experiences to really explore the central character Evie.
I found it strange that halfway through a book all about Evie, I felt like I knew nothing more about her than I knew at the beginning. Evie’s parents are absent and let her pretty much do what she wants. She kind of loves her boyfriend, but not really. She is madly in love with her teacher, but we never really learn why, except that he is really hot. While hotness is often enough drive for a teenage romance, the narrator tries to convince the reader that there is something greater and irresistible going on, but this is more told to the reader rather than shown.
At the end I found myself more disappointed in this book than in Eugenides’ book because I had different and perhaps higher expectations. I thought the nature of the book would allow me insight into Evie, but instead it truly lived up to its title, Anthropology of an American Girl.
An anthropological study is one that examines the motions or actions of a group of people without trying to add too much outside explanation and information. That is what Hamman does here. She tells us what Evie does in her life, but she never manages to show who Evie really is.