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ewewstL '¦Pm. \ Bb The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank Viking, 1999, 274 pp., $23.95 One of the most hyped books this year was Melissa Bank's debut collection of stories, which garnered an unprecedented advance of $275,000 for a story collection, major buzz, and a screenplay offer from Francis Ford Coppola. Most of the stories in The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing revolve around Jane Rosenal and detail her progress in relationships, from her vicarious participation, as an adolescent, in her older brother's love life, through several bittersweet affairs of her own, to a romantic finale when Jane finds her perfect counterpart. Despite her somewhat tedious focus on the pursuit oflove, Jane is an immensely likeable character with a propensity for quick-witted insights. AU of the stories except one are told in the first person, in a voice that is by turns acerbic and self-deprecating. Even as a fourteen-year-old, Jane is hyperattuned to herself and her surroundings . In "Advanced Beginners" she mocks both the social niceties and her own suburban background with internal comments such as, "I'd love to stay and talk, but I have to go shoot some heroin now." This first story showcases Bank's ability with humor, as in the hilarious scene in which the young Jane and her best friend sidestep alcohol and drugs at abeach party by exchanging rehab truisms: "She said, 'You still get flashbacks?' ? think I always will/ I said. 'Remember/ she said, 'never say "always."' I said, 'Every day is a gift.'" She shuttles deftly between funny scenes like this and small revelations. Apparently offhand remarks like Jane's comment on her parents' affection for her brother 's girlfriend—"Julia was the kind, helpful articulate daughter they deserved"—often serve as minute turning points in which Jane briefly reassesses herself and her situation. These modest epiphanies show Bank's restraint and sincerity. The result is a kinder, gentler version of Lome Moore's stories, one in which the reader can care about the main characters without feeling guilty. One particularly impressive feature of this book is Bank's skill with dialogue. Rather than relying on firstperson musings to push the stories 186 · The Missouri Review forward, Bank uses lively, often absurd, surprisingly resonant conversations between her characters to keep things moving. "The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine ," a nearly novella-length story about Jane dealing with her father's cancer and her aging lover's alcoholism , is the strongest one in the collection. Here Bank's agile dialogue and the episodic structure offset the weighty issues. The story shifts between Jane's interactions with a supportive boss, her gentle father (who has concealed his leukemia from her for seven years), and her famous editor boyfriend. It is through her conversations with and about these mentors, and her scrupulous and sometimes unsettling accounting of their reactions to her, that Jane realizes: "I was just one person in one window. Nobody was watching, except me." "The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine" combines the best of Bank's careful characterization and offbeat humor to create a moving portrait of a woman learning to let go. The two stories in the book not overtly about Jane stick out, as they intrude upon the linear progression of the linked stories. Both read more like outlines than fleshed-out fiction. The characters in these pieces reprise some ofJane's best lines, but without the depth of character that makesJane so likeable. The only story involving Jane that falls prey to a similar sketchiness is the title piece, reportedly the result of a suggestion by Coppola and the basis for the forthcoming screenplay. Although the premise is intriguing—Jane gets sucked in by a RuZes-like guide to romantic relationships and cannot banish the specters of a pair of perky high-school-cheerleader types who glom onto her and advise her on everything from hairstyle to appropriate conversation lengths—it reads like a heavy-handed outline with a clear moral ("Be yourself ") that is as uninspired as the romance guides Bank is satirizing. With the exception of this disappointing finale, A Girls...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 186-187
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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