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The Wonder Spotby Melissa Bank
"Saturday morning I started The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank's 2005 novel-in-stories. Sunday afternoon I finished. Two days with the Applebaum family took me all the way from turntables to cell phones; we covered a lot of ground, Sophie Applebaum and I, from Hebrew School well into our thirties. But other than the night Sophie wandered around Manhattan in the rain, Bank's novel exists in an adamantly weather-free zone. Call it climate agnostic. Which worked out perfectly: The only weather I wanted to acknowledge this weekend was my own.
"The Wonder Spot also happens to be one of the more perceptive novels about family and relationships that I've read in years (lest you walk away thinking that a lack of meteorological interruption was the book's most appealing quality). I'm tempted to compare the Applebaums to the Lamberts (from The Corrections). You'd never confuse the consciously literary, third-person stylings of Jonathan Franzen with Bank's talky, girl-next-door narration, but both authors trick out the subtle (and occasionally debilitating) machinations of 'typical' American families with such sly and precise observation that you're made to alternately laugh and shudder. It's all so damn familiar."
"Writers who produce wildly entertaining books often go underestimated by the literary establishment. Melissa Bank's terrific new novel lacks the topical conflicts and poetic imagery that critics appreciate, and its strong suit is a companionable, offhand sense of humor leading to subtle revelations of character is deceptively difficult to achieve." Elizabeth Judd, the Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly)
Synopses & Reviews
The long-anticipated return of Melissa Bank, author of the mega-bestseller The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
Melissa Bank's runaway bestseller, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, charmed readers and critics alike with its wickedly insightful yet tender look at the pitfalls of romance and the treacherous waters of the workplace. Now, Bank is back with a new protagonist and a funny, moving, and utterly unforgettable look at a family on the brink of change. Sophie Applebaum, the young woman at the center of The Wonder Spot, never fits neatly into any description of who she might be: she's Jewish but lacks religious feeling; she's a book lover but a mediocre student; she's impetuous in love but isn't sure whom or if she wants to marry.
Through the eyes of this compelling outsider, The Wonder Spot captures the life cycle of a family, the Applebaums of Surrey, Pennsylvania, and watches their lives — and Sophie's — unfold over the ensuing two decades. A surefire blockbuster for fans of both literary fiction and young women's (mis)adventures, The Wonder Spot is a loving book full of Bank's signature humor and vast talent for capturing a moment, taking it to heart, and giving it back to her readers.
"Fans of the megasuccessful Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, rejoice. Bank is back with an equally entertaining first novel, starring Sophie Applebaum, a sarcastic, self-deprecating middle child from a suburban Jewish family who moves from a fish-out-of-water adolescence to a how-did-I-get-here adulthood. Likable Sophie's (mis)adventures in life and love include an attempt to use lyrics from Bob Dylan's 'It Ain't Me, Babe' to argue against the necessity of attending Hebrew school and a penchant for imagining her future life with men she barely knows (a potential beau's ability to cook fish becomes 'a metaphor for the hard things we will face together'). A slightly cynical yet romantic optimism grounds Sophie — and gives Bank plenty of opportunities for clever quips: cribbing a career objective in publishing from a resume handbook, Sophie diligently copies exercises found in the long-overdue library book 20th Century Typing, including 'Know Your Typewriter,' and she agrees to a blind date with a pediatric surgeon by noting that she possesses her own 'pediatric heart.' But this isn't just another urban chick-lit bildungsroman; Bank's work also features the intriguing transformations of the other Applebaums: a grandmother's slip into senility, Sophie's mother's dip into infidelity, a brother's turn toward Orthodox Judaism. Through it all, Sophie never quite escapes the sense of being a 'solid trying to do a liquid's job,' a feeling as frightening as it is familiar to those struggling to achieve a grownup self-awareness. Engrossing, engaging — it's a wonderful return for Bank. Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Another engaging, ruefully funny saga of a young woman growing up without ever quite fitting in....Very appealing." Kirkus Reviews
"Forget sophomore slump: this book proves that the second time's a charm....The Wonder Spot was well worth the wait, and we can hope the smart Sophie Applebaum will finally depose Bridget Jones as reigning queen of single women." Chicago Sun-Times
"Bank's bittersweet, tremendously winning return isn't just a great read. It is a wake-up call, alerting the literary establishment that stories about young women's coming-of-age can still be enthralling, engaging, and deserving of their notice. (Grade: A)" Jennifer Weiner, Entertainment Weekly
"Pound for pound, line for line, story for story, The Wonder Spot is a better-honed and steadier volume [than Girls' Guide]. It's also the less striking book, if only because it so flagrantly reiterates the first one." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[H]ighly readable, sometimes funny and entirely unchallenging; you're not one iota smarter after finishing it....The Wonder Spot contains real meaning only if we identify with Sophie enough to infuse it with meaning of our own." Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review
"In The Wonder Spot, Bank mixes humor with sadness while leavening difficulty with laughter to create a rich narrative that gratifies on many levels." Los Angeles Times
"Hilarious and clever....The material, now and again, may be overworked, but it is, after all, the stuff of life, and Melissa Bank has made it the stuff of a marvelous novel." Jenny McPhee, The Washington Post
"This assured, beautifully crafted story showcases a young woman who struggles to find her footing and in the process captivates with her wry observations and awkward charm." Hartford Courant
"Bank resists the urge to overromanticize modern-day relationships, recognizing the ordinary, mundane side of life and love." Booklist
"A sexy, funny, pour-your-heart-out, champagne tingle of a read...a voice you'll remember for years to come." Cosmopolitan
Melissa Bank's runaway bestseller, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, charmed readers and critics alike with its wickedly insightful, tender look at a young woman's forays into love, work, and friendship. Now, with The Wonder Spot, Bank is back with her signature combination of devilishly self-deprecating humor, seriousness and wisdom.
Nothing comes easily to Sophie Applebaum, the black sheep of her family trying to blend in with the herd. Uneasily situated between two brothers, Sophie first appears as the fulcrum and observer of her clan in "Boss of the World." Then, at college, in "The Toy Bar," she faces a gauntlet of challenges as Best Friend to the dramatic and beautiful Venice Lambourne, curator of "perfect things." In her early twenties, Sophie is dazzled by the possibilities of New York City during the Selectric typewriter era—only to land solidly back in Surrey, PA after her father's death.
The Wonder Spot follows Sophie's quest for her own identity—who she is, what she loves, whom she loves, and occasionally whom she feels others should love—over the course of 25 years. In an often-disappointing world, Sophie listens closely to her own heart. And when she experiences her 'Aha!' moments—her own personal wonder spots—it's the real thing. In this tremendous follow-up to The Girls' Guide To Hunting And Fishing, Bank again shares her vast talent for capturing a moment, taking it to heart, and giving it back to her readers.
Melissa Ban‛s debut, The Girl‛ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, was a literary landmark and a runaway bestseller. Now, in The Wonder Spot, she reminds us why she has been compared to John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Shaped by Ban‛s trademark blend of emotional depth and wry humor, The Wonder Spot traces the coming-of-age of Sophie, black sheep of the Applebaum family of Surrey, Pennsylvania. As we follow her from the sweet bewildering moments of adolescence through the rigors of life and love in New York City, we are treated to a profoundly intelligent, page-turning triumph that confirms Melissa Ban‛s reputation as a singular talent.
About the Author
Melissa Bank is the author of the bestselling The Girls' Guide To Hunting And Fishing. A winner of the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, she divides her time between New York City and East Hampton, New York.
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