"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Girls' Guide To Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

This is a thin little book comprising of seven short stories. They are all, with the exception of one, written in the first person by Jane Rosenal, a female New Yorker in and out of psychoanalysis. They take place during various periods of her life; the first one when she is fourteen and the last apparently when she is in her mid-thirties.

Her stories consist of observing the human beings in her life, and the events which occur to them and her, and making sarcastic comments about them. She doesn't really like anybody except for her father, who appears only intermittently, then dies. She has a boyfriend who is 28 years older than her but she doesn't like him either. She doesn't like her boss. She doesn't like her first boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, who was kind enough to invite them to her Caribbean estate. She doesn't even like her first boyfriend. The reason I know she doesn't like these people is that she remains aloof and distant from them, and makes cynical and bitter remarks both to them and about them.

In the middle of the book there is a story written in the first person by Nina, who is a downstairs neighbor of Janie. She contributes nothing to the Janie mystique, and all she does is recount an unusual dinner party. Why this story is contained here, I do not know.

In the last story, which shares the title of the book, I finally get a glimpse of what this collection could have been. It is about Janie's efforts to attract and finally hang onto a man by a using a self-help guide which encourages her to play coy. Ironically, by using these techniques, she almost loses the man of her dreams. It is only by reverting to her own personality that she is able to keep him. This story is unique in that it is the only one where she allows herself to come out of her shell. For once, I see her vulnerabilities, and she becomes human to me. I begin to empathize with her; and her jokes, instead of being brittle and prickly, become funny, and touching. The story is symbolic of the book as a whole: like Janie, when the author finally opens up to us, I respond.

But unfortunately, it is much too little, and much too late. Despite its being well-written and occasionally clever, there is no depth here, and, except for the last story, no warmth.

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