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October 1999

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

A review of Melissa Bank's new Book, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing Hunting and Fishing

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing*** by Melissa Bank Viking, 1999 One big misconception should be cleared up from the start — The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing is not another “how to” book about meeting and keeping Prince Charming nor is it a treasury of tips for outdoorsy girls. Rather, its hilarious title story warns of the predicaments a single woman can get into if she follows the advice given in mating manuals, such as the bestseller The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, which assures single women that they, too, will marry the man of their dreams if they follow a simple set of (rather old-fashioned) rules: “Be quiet and mysterious, act ladylike, cross your legs and smile.” The Girls’ Guide is more than a brilliant satire — which is why the endless comparisons with Helen Fielding’s “woe is me” Bridget Jones’s Diary don’t quite work. The first book by 39-year-old New Yorker Melissa Bank is a bestselling collection of seven interconnected stories that can be read separately, but that, together, form a single narrative, which follows the life of Jane Rosenal. We first meet Jane at the age of 14, when her elder brother Henry introduces his first serious girlfriend to the family at their summer house. With fascination, Jane witnesses the transformation her brother undergoes, when he, almost overnight, seems to have become older and more mature. But Henry’s romance soon turns sour and Jane begins to realize how powerful and yet how complex and fickle love can be. “It occurred to me that everything was more complicated than I had thought,” she muses. In the opening story, Bank establishes her protagonist as a character with a strong voice, a keen eye for detail and a sense of humor that is often subtle and sometimes sharp and subversive, like Groucho Marx meeting Salinger’s Holden Caulfield — “When there was a pause in their nicing, I made my mouth move smileward: I’d love to stay and talk, but I have to go shoot some heroin now.” In the stories that follow, we watch Jane embark on a journey to find happiness. Bank’s portrayal of Jane’s search for the right man or the perfect job is not done for cheap laughs, nor does she paint a picture of a career-obsessed single or a neurotic woman for whom marriage is the ultimate goal. Jane does not fit simple stereotypes, which is precisely what makes her so real and easy to identify with. She struggles with her own definition of a fulfilling relationship and ultimately leaves her first boyfriend for Archie Knox, a celebrated editor more than twice her age. Their rocky relationship is the central love story of the book, its ups and downs chronicled by Bank with much sympathy and no sentimentality. But even though the challenging relationship with Archie is a crucial part of Jane’s life, romance is not the sole experience that shapes her. In other stories, she becomes intimately acquainted with life’s tragic turns, as she must come to terms with the loss of her father and bravely battles breast cancer. As an aspiring editor, she is frustrated by her female boss, who rewards her with used lipstick and unwanted manuscripts. Throughout the book, Jane maintains her characteristic outspokenness, maturing from a precocious teenager into a confident woman who has the courage to let go of an unsatisfying job and relationship, and who learns that in love there are no rules. The Girls’ Guide is a moving portrait of a modern woman, both humorous and thought-provoking. <<<

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