Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Melissa Bank

Penguin published Melissa Bank’s book The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing in 1999. The book became a National Bestseller in both The United States and the United Kingdom, and has been translated into several other languages.

The Girls’ Guide, a compilation of five interconnected short stories, spans the life of Jane Rosenal from age fourteen to her mid-thirties, as she navigates the terrain of love and loss. Jane drifts in and out (and in again) of several romantic relationships, loses her father to leukemia, battles breast cancer, and pursues an unsuccessful career in publishing before she switches to advertising. In these stories, Bank emphasizes the development of Jane’s persona and character through her experiences of loss.

In the final story, entitled “The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing”, Jane struggles to find her own identity. “You get all these ideas about what a woman is supposed to be like—you know, feminine,” she admits to a man she is dating. Jane finally dismisses these voices and identifies her own authentic voice.

In an interview, Bank summarizes her book as “Girl meets boy, girl loses self, Girl finds self.”

Bank spent twelve years writing Girl’s Guide, and admits to several autobiographical elements within the book. Melissa Bank grew up in Pennsylvania, like Jane. She also has a neurologist father who died from leukemia in his late 50s, a background in publishing, and an older lover with a history of drunkenness and diabetes.

In 2005 Bank published a second book, The Wonder Spot. This novel is also composed of several short stories, and touches on some of the same themes found in Girls’ Guide. The main character, Sophie, self-actualizes through a series of mis-haps, relating to work and relationships. This is a good book, although it is not quite as crisp as the Girl's Guide. In fact, I am conflicted as to which of these books I like better; in the Wonder Spot, Bank fleshes things out a bit more (ie she will actually use a sentence to explain something whereas in Girl's Guide she will only use a phrase).

However, at the same time, Girl's Guide seems more like literature (perhaps due to the more refined writing style) and the Wonder Spot a little bit more like the worst kind of chic-lit. (is marriage dating and worrying whether or not a person is fat from eating too much pizza the only things that matter?)

Bank’s writing is typically categorized under the chic-lit genre. Bank herself, however refutes this categorization. In an interview she says, “When a man writes a book no one ever says, ‘Oh, it’s men’s fiction,’ even if it is about war or only men are in the book…I think it denigrates women to say that just because it is about a woman or written by a woman that it is “women’s fiction.”

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