—LIBRARY THING: Author Interview
Hilary Thayer Hamann gives us recommendations to go with her new novel Anthropology of an American Girl, a recent Early Reviewer giveaway book. Anthropology was first self-published in 2003, then picked up by Spiegel & Grau and published in May 2010. The story is that of "a young American woman struggling to remain true to herelf as she encounters love, passion, and death amid the challenges and heartbreaks of growing up." This is Hilary's first novel.
From Ms. Hamann
Like Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Anthropology contains an examination of what it means to be American by choice rather than by accident. Both Rand's books and mine feature heroines who learn that freedom should never taken for granted and male protagonists who prefer to struggle in independent obscurity rather than compromise ideals. In Anthropology, I tried to avoid stereotype and write about familiar things in new ways. Stereotype has been done so often that it's become the rule rather than the exception. Such descriptions, while often appealing, do not advance understanding—of ourselves, each other, or the world around us. I chose to track a woman's development by observing tiny moments of truth in order to genuinely uncover paths to compromise that might best be avoided.
I love the quiet carnival Betty Smith created in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read it as a teenager living in the Bronx, and it rang true to my experience of a world in which people are confined by circumstances beyond their control—lack of money, education, property, opportunities. And yet, life is no less thrilling. People have simply turned blind to the inconvenience of their lack because survival requires blindness. Occasionally, a child with "vision" arrives, and that vision is a forerunner of artistry—the artistry that leads the child eventually to make art from their experiences! In Smith's book, as in mine, the heroine is a child with vision, an anomaly in a social universe that is essential to them. The ironic combination of ownership and alienation is wonderful. Readers can examine difficult situations from a safe place, possessing the knowledge that eventually the protagonist will survive and escape—if only because the writer has written the book!
Anthropology has been compared to Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The most obvious reason is that the novels feature intensely subjective, often unreliable, first-person, stream-of-consciousness style narratives. I feel the books share a theme of resistance to conformity. Like Holden Caulfield, Eveline Auerbach is submerged in her culture,—yet, alienated from it. Both protagonists are "slamming on the brakes" before agreeing to surrender to maturity. They assess all situations—trivial and serious—with equal gravity, because they are suspicious, because they doubt, because they don't know what to believe, or more specifically, they don't presume to know what to believe. They reject the wholesale handing down of blocks of "knowledge" from one generation to the next. They insist on picking apart the bricks and mortar of inconsistencies and mistruths. They are obsessive because they have to be, because someone has to be.
In Lady Chatterly's Lover, D.H. Lawrence explores the ways in which social conventions intrude on human lives resulting in a net loss of instinct, desire, and happiness. Lawrence rescues his heroine from a loveless marriage with an impotent aristocrat by placing her in a sexual relationship with her husband's gamekeeper. The author does not simply describe some sensational affair, but directs his characters to maturation and personal fulfillment that can be attained only through wholesome sexual love, through a balance of mind and body. In Anthropology I also tried to write about the transformative powers of erotic love, and the self-knowledge that can be a consequence of such love. In both novels, the lovers give the gift of self, and subsequently, they are brought to new life. There is a synchronizing that occurs—person to person, person to self, person to others, person to the world at large. And beyond that, to the natural, to the environment, to the universe. All life becomes reignited with new possibilities.
In its review of Anthropology, Library Journal said, "Henry James meets the 21st Century." James' Portrait of a Lady offers an in-depth survey of a woman set against the tapestry of her era, as does Anthropology. Both novels cover themes of sexuality, freedom, betrayal, oppression, enslavement, and surrender. Material wealth and the "security" it provides holds a fascination for James' Isabel Archer, as it does for my character, Eveline Auerbach. Both women forego the attentions of good, kind suitors to become enslaved by men with hidden agendas who operate from a position of knowledge in the world of influence. Both are complicit in their confinement: they willingly give over. But why? Perhaps because enslavement absolves one from self-governance, and there is something inherently attractive in this, even addictive. My book, like James' conveys the message: "Be careful what you wish for: you might get it."