Sunday, 22 May 2011

[036] The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

Hailed by critics as the debut of a major literary voice, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing has dazzled and delighted readers and topped bestseller lists nationwide. Generous-hearted and wickedly insightful, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing maps the progress of Jane Rosenal as she sets out on a personal and spirited expedition through the perilous terrain of sex, love and relationships, and the treacherous waters of the workplace. With an unforgettable comic touch, Bank skillfully teases out issues of the heart, puts a new spin on the mating dance, and captures in perfect pitch what it's like to be a young woman coming of age in America today.

Why I Picked It Up:

I'm not entirely sure. It looked like an interesting and modern-ish read. I needed something like that.

What I Think:

The age old adage says that "You can't judge a book by its cover." While I appreciate the ulterior meaning behind that saying, I have to say that you can definitely get a good feel on the book from its cover. Maybe it's not what the author intended but publishing companies are very good about giving the potential reader an idea of what they're getting into by the cover of the book. 

It's all about the packaging: a thriller has a target or some threatening shadow, the author's name blazing across the top in a somewhat metallic shade. A romance novel has either the heroine and hero locked in an awkwardly passionate embrace or simply a dark, rich color with the author's name in a flowery script. They may not tell you if the book is any good or not but they do give you a pretty good idea of what you're about to be reading.

This is the best explanation I can give of my picking up The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: the cover made me think this was the kind of book I was in the mood to read. It had a sparse, modern cover, the kind that recalls contemporary drama. The solitary figure, the fake plaid binding, the fact that it was a Penguin book (I have a strange trust of the Penguin logo that I always intuitively lean towards) made me think "Yes, this is going to be a book that is somewhat modern, somewhat chick lit-y and exactly what I need to get rid of the taste of ridiculous romance and true to life fairies."

One of the things I love about this book is that it is not a straight novel. Instead, it is a series of five short stories, mostly in in the life of the main girl Jane. They go in order of her life, for the most part, and detail moments when you could say she "grows up." Or at least loses some innocence. 

I don't want to say that this is an everyman's book, because it's definitely not. In particular, there is one affair Jane has that I'm fairly certain most people have never experienced. However, the feeling of finding yourself and slowly noticing the flaws of the people around you, when the shine has worn off and the world seeps in, is a feeling I'm sure most people can relate to. 

I loved the narrative voice. There was a thread that ran along the entire novel that made it easy to keep reading. Maybe not a "couldn't put it down!' book but definitely a "hmm, maybe a few more pages before I go off my break." I actually was reading this book in the classroom while on break when the earthquake struck. But more on that later.

The only real problem I have is with the third story, the only one that is not a part of Jane's life but instead, taken from the life of one of Jane's neighbors. I've been trying since I finished the book to reconcile this with the others and figure out why Bank felt the need to include that particular story in her pastiche of a girl's life. Obviously the different characters allow her to explore a story that would not fit in with the narrative she had built up around Jane. But was it necessary? Was it just a short interlude, in case we were getting sick of Jane? Or was it supposed to open our eyes to the sorts of things that can happen in this strange amalgamation of experiences that is a modern life? I'm not sure.

To be honest, I actually really enjoyed the book. It was the exact kind of thing I was in the mood for. I can remember each story very vividly and recall the small feeling of loss that accompanies each. Even the last story, which I suppose for most people might be the most unsatisfying, I found lovely and appreciated the difference in tone to the others. 

I heard this book called a modern woman's Catcher in the Rye somewhere a little while ago and I don't know if I would go that far. However, if you're looking for a somewhat quick read that might make you think a bit, I would definitely pick this up.

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