Anthropology of an American Girl

Hilary Thayer Hamann

Very Short List made this sound so good (a well-crafted classic!), and the NYPL hold list was hundreds of people deep, so when a copy finally came through nearly four months later, I was expecting a pretty awesome coming-of-age story based in the late 70s and early 80s in New York (the city and east Long Island). The story isn’t so much non-linear as episodic with not all the episodes following the chronology, the jumps aren’t distracting but lack purpose. It’s also tediously detailed, including elements that seem to be for atmosphere but generally come across as unnecessary. A quarter of the way in to the 600-page tome, I was losing steam and did something I don’t usually do: I read some reviews to see if it was worth continuing. Several of the less positive reviews included the words “overwrought” and “underedited.” One also included a mention of the main character’s tendency to pass out or fall into a coma when her emotions overwhelmed her. I thought that couldn’t possibly be true but skimmed ahead and found a scene where she sleeps through a fever for two days after her lover announces he’s leaving.

And yes, “lover”; this book is undoubtedly a romance novel at its core. “Weeks had elapsed since I’d seen him last, and though I’d thought of him, those thoughts had not affected my mood or disposition. Yet having him before me now, I knew I’d been deprived.” Some of the writing is really beautiful, but unfortunately I have to agree that to me, this should have been edited more drastically from its self-published form. I could see how some people may find it really entertaining as it is, but I couldn’t relate.