“Hamann presents a wealth of fresh, absorbing, raw data in Girl, and it is the privilege and mission of the reader to properly assimilate it.”
I loved my big old college textbooks. I truly enjoyed spending money I didn't have on books I couldn't carry. Most people played video games in the cafeteria, but I preferred reading the dense paragraphs over and over in the library and highlighting the sentences and annotating the margins and going back later in order to figure it all out. That probably explains why I was so intent on learning something from this debut novel: At 568 pages, it's got the heft and texture of a scholarly tome. Hamann's thesis about the American girl—hers is Eveline, a high-school senior in the Hamptons, circa 1979—is that she is as fragile as she is tough, which reflects her environment. Hamann's methodology is to carefully study that environment in order to understand the organism. Her novel, like a field journal, is full of details like the way the sand and the beach grass differ from one side of the island to the other. As Eveline falls in and out of love and learns to understand who she is, she becomes a sharp-eyed sociologist and narrator. "When I was a kid, dope fiends were always trying to fly. Nobody tries to fly anymore," says Evie of a party full of sedate, seated junkies in the city. And, she adds, "The fact is, when you give cars to people with no responsibilities, no destinations, and no privacy, they will most likely use them for things other than driving," explaining how it was that her first love and his friend got really stoned and drove his car several miles home in reverse.
Loosely adapted from the author's own journals, Anthropology makes a petri dish of the distinct social colonies located in New York City, New Jersey, and on the eastern tip of Long Island. As she travels through them, Evie is an adept note taker but not a theorist. She asks many questions of herself, but makes few conclusions. And that's appropriate; after all, how many us understand ourselves during the complicated process of growing up? Evie's coming-of-age, which continues through the '80s, is about as intricate a process as any chemical reaction. Hamann presents a wealth of fresh, absorbing, raw data in Girl, and it is the privilege and mission of the reader to properly assimilate it. By the close of this half-fanciful, half-academic, fully-realized novel, Hamann's collected evidence provided proof enough for me that she possesses a keen, questioning mind and a precise, empirical method. While the subject matter might lend itself to a slim, stereotypical chick-lit treatment, Girl weighs in with considerably more substance. It's a book worth studying.