Bank, Melissa. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

NY: Viking, 1999.

A few avid fellow readers have been urging this book on me for some time (we often start conversations with “What? You haven’t read that yet?!”) but I’ve just now gotten around to it. I wish I hadn’t waited.

Bank, who was working in the lower echelons of the New York publishing world most of the time, took more than a decade to write her first novel, much of it taken from personal experience. Okay, you can call it “chick-lit,” but it’s of a very superior sort.

Jane Rosenal is fourteen when we meet her in the first of seven narrative episodes, bright and funny but not (in her own eyes) particularly attractive. Her twenty-year-old brother, Henry, to whom she’s close all her life, brings home his first serious girlfriend and Jane studies her in hopes of finding out how to be a girl that boys will like. (She’s not entirely conscious of it, but that’s what she’s doing.) Then she’s in her mid-20s and going off to a Caribbean island with her own first real boyfriend, where their interaction with their hosts in their beach house teaches her some things. Then we’re back to Jane’s late teens and her first meeting with Archie, a noted book editor twenty-eight years her senior. Eleven years later, they meet again and shortly after that they’re living together. Paralleling this, Jane lets us know about her relationship with her neurologist father, but what would seem like the obvious psychological conclusion about what she’s searching for isn’t really so obvious after all. But she keeps looking — hunting, that is — going through a succession of really not very many boyfriends, attending friends’ weddings, getting into publishing herself and then getting out again, and moving into and out of Archie’s life several times. And throughout Jane’s quest for happiness, or maybe just for satisfaction, the prose sparkles. An overused word, but it definitely applies here. The style is dry and ironic and the humor is often self-deprecating and very New York-ish. In fact, the only slightly jarring part of the book is the sudden detour into the lives of Jane’s downstairs neighbor and her family, with whom Jane has no connection before or after, and whom we never see again. Don’t know why that chapter is in there. I mean, they’re an interesting family in their own right, but it’s sort of distracting. (Perhaps Bank should have saved them for her next book.) Nevertheless, the uniformly high quality of the writing and characterization make this a book to recommend without hesitation.

Published in: on 17 May 2013 at 6:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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