Anthropology of an American Girl

It’s not often I finish a book with such a torn opinion. I either return it to the shelf with the tenderness one might afford a small baby in a cot, or throw it into the darkness at the back of my closet with lips curled downwards.

Don’t get me wrong. Anthropology of an American Girl is disconcertingly addictive. I was up til midnight last night finishing it. It doesn’t surprise me that one reviewer said that if someone could figure out how to turn crack into a book, it’d be this book. But when I had finished it – tears still drying on my face – I hovered with it. I neither threw it nor laid it to rest. Eventually I just dropped in on the bed beside me and went to sleep.

Hilary Thayer Hamann’s Anthropology was originally self-published, although this version is said to have been much further refined. Really? It’s 600 freaking pages! I’d hate to see the first edition.

I think it started off surperbly. In fact I was so hooked by the first page I shelled out the ridiculous $44 Whitcoulls was demanding. Our protagonist (note, I do not choose the word heroine), Eveline, burst across my subconscious and grabbed my hand, dragging me into summer 1978. But the vibrant Evie we start with fades. Her fingers slip from mine as we weave through the pages together. She becomes more and more opaque, and by the end of it I’m pretty sure I didn’t know her at all. She rarely speaks. We are instead treated to her seemingly endless inner monologue. I know, I know, I always says I love stream-of-consciousness novels. But what I like about them is the breathless quality, the way the words spill over each other like a bubbling brook after a rainstorm. Eveline’s stream of consciousness is more like a deep dark pool. Her sentences are ponderous. And long, so, so long.

I get frustrated with the introspection. I get frustrated hovering over the metaphors, trying to make them work in my mind. I get frustrated with Evie, Evie, Evie, when all the characters around her are half-formed. Rourke is the love of her life. But why? He’s hardly described at all, his dialogue is at best a walk-on appearence. He’s a figment of Evie’s imagination. His abandonment of her, the whole freaking catalyst for the book, is never fully explained. And her longing for him, while staying with Mark for four years, seems a little in-credible.

To top it all off – we suddenly and inexplicably start jumping about in time. 1980, then 84, then 80, then 82. There’s not even any clues as to where in time we are, what the currency of the relationship is, what has or has not happened yet. The element of surprise is ruined. The fluency of the narrative is cut, jagged. I am left hanging, confused, floundering.

And yet… I want to read it again. Despite Evie being vague, reclusive, outwardly silent and inwardly verbose – I want more of her. Maybe that’s how I’m meant to feel.  Maybe that’s how all her lovers felt.

Either way, it cost me $44. I have to read it ten times to get my money’s worth.

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