Books Magazine

Melissa Banks: The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999)

By Caroline

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

I mistook The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing for superficial “chick lit”. At the time when it came out I wouldn’t have picked it up but a week ago I stumbled over a review which made me curious and when I saw that there were some dirt cheap used copies on amazon, I ordered one. I’m so glad I gave in. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this witty book. It’s funny and moving, sad and true, all at the same time. However, I would hesitate to call this a novel. It’s a series of short stories, mostly about the same character - Jane. Some of the stories, like the title story have been published by renowned magazines like Zoetrope. Two have been combined and made into a movie called Suburban Girl, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin. While reading the book I remembered I’ve seen this film. It’s not a must-see. Luckily the stories are much better.

When it came out a few critics wrote harsh reviews, saying Jane was no real character and the book contained nothing but witty one liners. I agree that the book contains a lot of witty repartee and quotable lines but I thought it was anything but flat.

The story I liked best is the first in the collection. It’s called Advanced Beginners. Jane is a very young girl still and love and dating are confusing. Emotions are confusing and she understands how difficult it is to put certain feelings into words. They are too delicate; talking about them could destroy them. The following quote, which I found online, will give you a taste of Bank’s style.

My brother’s first serious girlfriend was eight years older—twenty-eight to his twenty. Her name was Julia Cathcart, and Henry introduced her to us in early June. They drove from Manhattan down to our cottage in Loveladies, on the New Jersey shore. When his little convertible, his pet, pulled into the driveway, she was behind the wheel. My mother and I were watching from the kitchen window. I said, “He lets her drive his car.”

My brother and his girlfriend were dressed alike, baggy white shirts tucked into jeans, except she had a black cashmere sweater over her shoulders.

She had dark eyes, high cheekbones, and beautiful skin, pale, with high coloring in her cheeks like a child with a fever. Her hair was back in a loose ponytail, tied with a piece of lace, and she wore tiny pearl earrings.

I thought maybe she’d look older than Henry, but it was Henry who looked older than Henry. Standing there, he looked like a man. He’d grown a beard, for starters, and had on new wire-rim sunglasses that made him appear more like a bon vivant than a philosophy major between colleges. His hair was longer, and, not yet lightened by the sun, it was the reddish-brown color of an Irish setter.

He gave me a kiss on the cheek, as though he always had.

Then he roughed around with our Airedale, Atlas, while his girlfriend and mother shook hands. They were clasping fingertips, ladylike, smiling as though they were already fond of each other and just waiting for details to fill in why.

Julia turned to me and said, “You must be Janie.”

“Most people call me Jane now,” I said, making myself sound even younger.

“Jane,” she said, possibly in the manner of an adult trying to take a child seriously.

Henry unpacked the car and loaded himself up with everything they’d brought, little bags and big ones, a string tote, and a knapsack.

As he started up the driveway, his girlfriend said, “Do you have the wine, Hank?”

Whoever Hank was, he had it.

I also enjoyed the two stories which were made into a movie, My Old Man and The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine. The narrator is a young editor who dates an older, very famous editor who tries to hide his alcohol problem. It’s just as witty as the first story, but more bitter-sweet.

The title story pokes fun at all those self-help books that promise women will find Mr. Right if they only stick to certain rules. The narrator follows such a rule book and at first the result is funny but then it becomes tragic and she turns into a parody of herself.

I can’t help it but I like a book with quotable lines. I enjoyed most of the stories and to me it even felt like a novel because we see Jane at various stages of her dating life. When it came out it was compared to Bridget Jones but that doesn’t do it any justice. It’s totally different, because tone and voice are so different. Jane sounds mostly laconic. I’d also say The Girl’s Guide … is more literary style wise but with less social/cultural commentary. One should really not compare them. It just goes to show that Bridget Jones was the 90s Gone Girl.

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