Hilary Thayer Hamann, author of Anthropology of an American Girl
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Please welcome Hilary Thayer Hamann, author of Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel, which you may recognize from the Early Reviewer program. Hilary will be chatting on LibraryThing about her new book until August 5th.
Hilary is providing recommendations of books that pair well with her book -- look for it in the State of the Thing newsletter.
Hi to all AAG readers (or potential readers),
I will be checking in several times daily to answer questions about "Anthropology of an American Girl." Please feel free to ask anything that comes to mind. I really look forward to talking about my book, and about others, if anyone desires.
Did you do much revision of "Anthropology"? I'm thinking especially of those exquisitely observational passages on almost every page -- usually just a sentence or phrase that goes far past the usual sensory perceptions, often paired with thoughts but not always. Together these make up the most delicious aspect of the novel, more so than the story itself. In the course of the writing, did you go back over a page and discover places where you could deepen the prose in this way or did it flow naturally?
Hillary, congratulations on the success of your novel. I was really impressed with your precise writing style, especially the amazing descriptions using figurative language.
One concern I have is that early in the book you celebrate strong feminine traits, but later in the second half the main character seemed so to be in need of a man to complete her. Your thoughts? ---Jenny :o)
Thanks for the question. In the course of writing the book, I would put the character in certain situations and then try to think as she might think about those situations. She has a somewhat more penetrating point of view than I do, but her job was to really think about her society and her place in it before "graduating" into maturity. This coincided with the book's overall project of cultural self-examination.
The observational passages you mention were partly generated by the intense and artistic way the character sees, and partly by the nature of the book's themes--one of which concerns the obligation to pay attention to how one sees and is seen, to think about the demands of one's culture, and to review before enlisting, so to speak.
If I am writing from Evie's perspective, the descriptions are by necessity more sensory, say, than if I'd been writing from the POV of another character...Jack, for instance, or Rob.
And it's true...the story...the plot thread, that is is really incidental to the interior world of a developing individual, and citizen.
While editing, some observations were cut from the original book, and others were clarified. It was important to stay true to Evelin'e vision of life, and to let the story unfold as it would more or less in her mind. That was what felt most authentic.
It is not a reductionist novel. It tried not to traffic in stereotypes. It takes a decidedly different approach to telling the story of growing up in American society.
Good question. I understand your point. I tried to report on what I felt was an authentically female pattern even in its negative aspects and hopefully have her emerge from it with her individual identity (the "true" inside one that has been shared with the readers all along) in tact. I tried to engage with that pattern frankly, by describing it as accurately and sometimes as painfully as possible, but not celebrating it. So many stories (in book, film, or music) seem to sensationalize "man-catching" and what I believe to be basic female subjugation. In fact, I think the book deals with some difficult circumstances that come out of Evie's allowing herself to be "completed" by men, ranging from unreported rape to drug and alcohol use to unprotected sex. She is not a victim, necessarily, but she certainly victimizes herself by implicitly, accidentally, absently, willfully, consenting to things that are not, let's say, organically her own ideas or wants.
Ultimately, I don't feel a man completes her. It just so happened that there was a love relationship that had "awakened her" that was a piece of what would eventually complete her in the end. If there had been no Rourke, Mark would not have completed her. She would have left him anyway. Jack would not have completed her. The main difference between Mark and Rourke, is that in the end, Rourke steps back and makes room for Evie to tie up loose ends. His only request is that she becomes aware of her decisions and choices insofar as they effect his behaviors and actions, which is a legitimate request and a positive exchange for any couple.
In the second half of the book I think she surrenders, as so many women and men do, to self-destruction, to despair, to depression. As far as my own experience goes, one's depression almost always needs a "patron." Usually, the patron has an agenda. In this case, her patron is Mark. Some call it an enabler. Well, I wanted to describe that process of one's allowing oneself to vanish into the life of another. It's meant to be difficult to read. After all, we lose her. It's like losing a friend, a daughter, a self.
I tried not to write a "happy" ending, so much as a "safe" ending. I tried to have her step out of herself and understand that she is part of a culture, a society, a group, and a nation first, and to appreciate the power in that, as well as the obligations and responsibilities that come with it. I feel in becoming an American at the end, she will more productive and humanistic directions!
Thank you for the excellent and insightful remark. It made me think too!
Very interesting what you've said about Evie becoming an American--that helps me so much to better understand the title.
Here on LT, I try and keep track of my favorite moments/quotes from the books I've read. I thought you might want to see the 3 I saved from your novel!:
....and she loved him with a special love she reserved for things so flawed.
We listened to 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' by The Beatles, hitting rewind on the tape deck whenever it ended. First I did it once, then twice, then she did it. And when she did it, it was different. It was like pouring bronze over a bird's nest, casting the moment in metal. There was this understanding that of all the songs we'd heard together, that one would be the last.
It was there that I met myself, there that I discovered my soul's invention, in the feminine genius of me.
You are very kind to do that. You chose three very real moments for me.
The first line is based in fact on my own mother who doesn't love openly "flawed" people with sympathy necessarily, but with awe, as though they are courageous to be so honest. I admire that quality in her because she always makes the object of her love feel good about themselves rather than self-conscious.
The other is also based on the end of a real friendship. It's funny, sometimes you can recall the last moments you spend with someone with complete clarity. It's like leaving a person at a train station.
And the last line is what it felt like for me the first time I was really in love, and most importantly, freely in love, without any prior attachments. It was just the feeling of finding yourself come alive in a world that seems so full.
Thanks again for reading, for commenting, and for sharing those lines.
i'm curious about your book, i mean i wanna read it..too bad it's not available here in our country :( I'm dominique from the philippines.
I'm sorry my book is not available in the Philippines. It would be great to have it translated into Tagalog!! I can say that it is available on Amazon as a hardcover or as a Kindle--but you might not have a Kindle (I don't either). The second option is to ask the library near you to order a copy of the book for their English language section. And third, the novel is coming out in Australia this month from another publisher (Allen and Unwin). That would be a shorter shipping distance for you! In fact the company might even distribute in the Philippines.
I can't believe this i'm really happy that you replied on my post:). It is my first time to accept a reply from an author like you which many people and i look up to...my first post was with ann brashares but she didn't reply:(..i'm still looking to read all your books..
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