After her wildly successful 1999 fiction debut, "The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing," Melissa Bank's fans have had to wait six long years to see...
“The Wonder Spot”
by Melissa Bank
Viking, 324 pp., $24.95
After her wildly successful 1999 fiction debut, “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” Melissa Bank’s fans have had to wait six long years to see if she could do it again. The answer is a resounding “yes!”
In “The Wonder Spot,” Bank has written the same kind of book — in “Girl’s Guide” there are seven loosely connected stories, all but one featuring Jane Rosenal; in “The Wonder Spot,” there are eight stories or chapters about Sophie Applebaum. Once again, we have a series of vignettes which combine to form a novel, loosely defined. Whether they are short stories, novellas or novels, Bank has once again joined comic and tragic aspects of one woman’s life in a way that is at once laugh-out-loud funny and deeply poignant.
In the first story/chapter, “Boss of the World,” Sophie is 12 and forced to attend Hebrew school in preparation for her bat mitzvah, strictly her mother’s idea. Bank introduces us to Sophie’s familial relationships in this gem. She is wary of her mother, adores and trusts her father and is close to both sibs: older brother Jack, at home in the world, and younger brother, Robert, incipient doctor, bookish and concerned. The three Applebaums remain close throughout the book, despite Robert’s marriage to a slow-talking, Orthodox pill.
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Melissa Bank, author of “The Wonder Spot,” will read at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
All the stories are illuminated by Bank’s acute observations regarding life and love in the New Millennium. Sophie always has friends and men around, but they are not quite the right ones. She has work, but never the job she wants. Sophie doesn’t whine or complain, she moves along, always trying to internalize what she learned from the last workplace or romance.
“Trying” is the operative concept here, as Sophie keeps looking for love in all the wrong places. But this is a girl who lives in the moment.
In “The Wonder Spot,” the last story, Sophie and her decade-younger boyfriend, Seth, walk into a party in full swing and she thinks: “I am a solid trying to do a liquid’s work. … The women are young, young, young, liquidy and sweet-looking: they are batter and I am the sponge cake they don’t know they’ll become. I stand here, a long loaf, stuck to the pan.” By the end of the evening, Sophie is holding Seth’s hand and thinking, “What I feel is, Right now I am having the life I want … ” That’s often as good as it gets.