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* * *
At the entrance to the store, we separate and plan to meet in an hour. I'm an expert shopper, discerning fabric content by touch, identifying couture at a glance. Here at Loehmann's, on Broadway at 237th Street, I'm in my element — Margaret Mead observing the coming of age in Samoa, Aretha Franklin demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Motor City.
Even so, I search for a whole hour without finding a single maybe, until I see it, my perfect dress, a black Armani sheath — but only in an ant-sized 2 and a spider 4.
I think, A smarter woman than I am bought my 10 at Saks or Barneys weeks ago, knowing it would never find its way to Loehmann's. She knew her dress when she saw it and didn't hesitate. That woman is zipping up her sheath right now, on her way to meet the man she loves.
But in the communal fitting room, Donna hands me the black Armani sheath in a 10 — the one that almost got away. I take this as an omen.
Is the dress perfect? It is so perfect.
I say, "You're my fairy godshopper," and sit on the fitting-room bench, holding the sheath in my arms while Donna tries on bathing suits. She adjusts the straps of a chocolate maillot and frowns at herself in the mirror. She doesn't know how beautiful she is, especially her sultry, heavy-lidded eyes; she says people stop her on the street and tell her to get some rest.
"No wonder I'm single," she says to the mirror. "Even I don't want to get into bed with these thighs."
I say that getting married isn't like winning the Miss America Pageant; it doesn't all come down to the bathing suit competition.
"What do you think it comes down to?" she says.
I say, "Baton twirling."
* * *
Afterward, we celebrate our purchases over turkey burgers at the Riverdale Diner. In a put-on silky voice, I say, "I am a woman who wears Armani."
"Clothes are armor," she says.
I don't need armor, I tell her; I'm happy for Max and Sophie.
"I hate weddings," she says. "They make me feel so unmarried. Actually, even brushing my teeth makes me feel unmarried."
She stops doing her shtick, and suddenly she does look tired; her lids practically cover her eyes. She tells me she's been reading a terrible book called How to Meet and Marry Mr. Right. "Their main advice is to play hard to get. Basically, it's a guide to manipulation."
I say that maybe she should stop reading it.
"I know," she says, only half agreeing. "But it's like I've been trying to catch a fish by swimming around with them. I keep making myself get in the water again. I try different rivers. I change my strokes. But nothing works. Then I find this guide that tells me about fishing poles and bait, and how to cast and what to do when the line gets taut." She stops and thinks. "The depressing part is that you know it'll work."
I say, "I hate fish."
* * *
The wedding is held at a restored mansion on the Hudson. I come up here sometimes on Sundays. If there isn't a wedding going on, you can pay admission to tour the house and grounds, but I pay my $4.50 just to sit in an Adirondack chair and read the newspaper and look at the river. It's a spot so idyllic that it makes you feel you're in a painting — a Seurat — and for a while I kept hoping a gentleman in shirtsleeves and a boater would dot-dot-dot over to me. Then I overheard a guard say that this place was just for the pinks and grays — wedding parties and senior citizens.
I arrive in the rainy late afternoon to help Sophie dress. I'm directed upstairs to the first door on the left, where I expect an old-fashioned bedroom with lace curtains, a vanity and a four-poster bed, but I find Sophie and her friends in a conference room with stacked plastic chairs and a slide projector. She's at the lectern, clowning in her bra and stockings.
I go up to her and the words blushing bride come to mind, though she is, in fact, an almost constant blusher — from sun or wind, laughing, crying, anger or wine. Now she actually appears to be glowing, and I kiss her and say, "Hello little glowworm."
Her hilarious friend Mavis pours me a big glass of wine; she's pregnant and says that I have to drink for two now.
After I help Sophie on with her off-the-shoulder ivory gown, she asks me to put on her makeup, though she knows I don't really know how. It's for the ritual of it; I brush a tiny bit of pale eye shadow on her lids and put on barely-there lipstick. She blots her lips with a tissue.
Mavis says, "Jesus, Sophie, you look like a whore."
The photographer knocks to tell Sophie it's time for pictures, and the rest of us follow. Mavis and I stop in the bathroom, and from the stall she tells me she didn't realize for a long time that she was pregnant; she thought she was just getting fat and becoming incontinent. "So the pregnancy was really good news."
Since I have nothing to add about pregnancy, I tell her I read that Tiny Tim wore Depends in his final years. He wasn't incontinent, just thought they were a good idea.
Downstairs, we join Mavis's husband and the other guests. We take our seats in the room where the ceremony will be held. It has a river view, but all you can see now is fog and rain and wet grass.
I ask Mavis what her ceremony was like, and she says that instead of The Wedding March she chose K.C. and the Sunshine Band's song "That's the way — Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh — I Like It" and danced herself down the aisle.
Her husband does a deadpan, "Uh-huh, uh-huh."
The music plays. We wait. Mavis whispers that she has to go to the bathroom again. I say, "Think how much better you'd feel if you had a Depends on right now." This is what I'm saying when Max and Sophie walk down the aisle.
* * *
The reception kicks off with a a klezmer band doing their bloop-yatty-bloop, and Sophie and Max are hauled up on chairs for the Jewish wedding version of musical chairs. I was raised as an assimilationist but it's not my confused identity that prevents me from joining in; I've got the spirit, but I can't clap to the beat.
Finally, we go to our tables. I'm at One, sitting between Mavis and Sophie, and I know everyone at the table except the man taking his seat at the opposite end. He's tall and gangly with olive skin, a high forehead and big eyes, cute, but that doesn't explain what comes over me. I haven't had this feeling in so long I don't even recognize it; at first I think it's fear. My hair follicles seem to individuate themselves and freeze; then it's like my whole body flushes.
He smiles over at me and mouths, "I'm Robert."
I mouth, "Jane."
When I come out of my swoon, Mavis is telling the table that my Depends comment made her pee in her pants. She tells me I should work Tiny into my toast, and only now do I remember that I'm supposed to give one.
I try to think of it during dinner, but I'm also trying not to stare at Robert, and I'm shaky and not exactly prepared when it's my turn to go up to the microphone.
"Hi," I say to the crowd. I wait for something to come to me, and then I see Sophie, and it does. I say that we met after college in New York, and that over the years we had a succession of boyfriends but weren't so happy with any of them. We were always asking each other, "Is this all we can expect?"
Then, I say, there was our sea-horse period, when we were told that we didn't need mates; we were supposed to make ourselves happy just bobbing around in careers.
"Finally, Sophie met Max," I say, and turn serious. I look over at him. I think, He has a nice face. And I say this into the microphone. "He gets how funny and generous and wholehearted she is. He understands what a big person she is, and yet he doesn't want to crush her." I get some blank stares here, but Sophie's laughing. I say, "Max is the man Sophie didn't know if she could hope for."
When I sit down, Robert stands, I assume to give his toast. But he walks over to my side of the table and asks Mavis if she'll trade seats with him.
She says, "No," and waits a moment before relinquishing her chair.
Robert sits beside me and says, "I loved your toast."
I linger over the word "love" coming out of his mouth about something of mine.
He tells me that he knows Max from freshman year — roughly twenty years — and I remember that a huge number of Oberlin friends are here and ask what bonds them all for life.
He says, "No one else will be friends with us."
Then another toaster picks up the microphone.
Toast, toast, toast; Robert and I can only talk during the intermissions in hurried exchanges:
I learn that he's a cartoonist, and I have to tell him that I work in advertising. "But," I say, and don't know what to say next. "I'm thinking of opening a dog museum."
"A dog museum?" he says. He's not sure if I'm kidding. "For the different breeds?"
"Maybe," I say. "Or else it could be a museum that dogs would enjoy. It could have interactive displays of squirrels dogs could chase and actually catch. And a gallery of scents."
He tells me he's just moved back to New York from L.A. and is staying with his sister until he finds an apartment. I tell him I live in Sophie's old apartment in the huge ancient building nicknamed the Dragonia for its gargoyles. Almost everyone knows someone who has lived there — an ex-girlfriend or masseuse, a cousin — and Robert does, too, though he doesn't specify whom.
Will I check on vacancies for him? I will.
Sophie's father goes up to the microphone for the last toast, a position of honor he's requested. He reads a rhyming poem:
"I despaired at my spinster daughter
though I thought her
Then came Maxie, praise the Lord,
from the heavens, I had scored.
But Max, like Sophie, makes documentaries,
how are they going to pay their rentaries?"
Sophie's shaking her head; Max is trying to smile at his father-in-law. Robert leans over and whispers to me,
"Dad is trying awfully hard,
but this guy is no one's bard."
* * *
Max and Sophie go table to table to talk to their guests, and as soon as Robert and I have the chance to talk without interruption, a statuesque beauty in a drapey gown interrupts.
"Jane," Robert says, "this is Apollinaire."
I'm about to say, "Call me Aphrodite," but I realize in time that he's not kidding.
"Have a seat," he tells her, nodding to the one next to me. But she gracefully drops beside him, as though to fill her urn, forcing Robert to turn his back to me. It occurs to me that I may not be the only butterfly whose wings flutter in the presence of his stamen.
After she glides off, Robert tells me that she composes music for movies and has been nominated for an Oscar. I think of my only award, an Honorable Mention in the under-twelve contest to draw Mr. Bubble.
"I like her toga," I say, confusing my ancients.
We talk, we talk, and then Robert announces to the table at large that it's time for us to prepare the newlyweds' getaway car.
Outside it's drizzling. Robert retrieves two grocery bags from the bushes and leads us to Max's car.
Mavis shaving creams smiley faces on the windows.
"Tres droll," her husband says, looking on.
I don't spray a word. I hold my shaving cream poised but nothing comes out. I say that I'm blocked.
Robert, tying cans to the bumper, says, "Just pretend you're spraying in your journal."
As we walk away from the parking lot, he says, "I'm pretty sure that's his car."
— From The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank. ©May, 1999, Melissa Bank used by permission
Melissa Bank: Great!
Melissa Bank: Not really, or not consistently. I think I was more a visual person, or more visual then verbal. I drew a lot and didn't write that much.
Melissa Bank: Thrilling!
Melissa Bank: I am so glad you like my book. I took some courses at Columbia, after college, although I wish I went to college at Columbia. And they inspired me to go to Cornell for an MFA. Classic writers and books? ANNA KARENINA by Tolstoy. I also learned a lot from Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES and Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY. Contemporary authors that I admire: Nick Hornby; I like Pam Houston; Elizabeth McCracken; and I love Tobias Wolfe's work, though it is a kind of writing that for some reason makes me feel like I am not a very good writer. And also I love Richard Ford's book ROCK SPRINGS -- I know he is better known for THE SPORTSWRITER and INDEPENDENCE DAY, which are also great books, but the one I love is ROCK SPRINGS.
Melissa Bank: Yes. This is a Cinderella story. I watched while all of my friends in graduate school got their books published -- book after book after book. And I did feel like the loser in the class, or the loser in the group. But at a certain point I decided not to send out stories any more and just concentrate on the writing itself. So I devoted myself just to this as a book and thought less of it as individual stories. I sent a few stories to Zoetrope, and the editor in chief, Adrienne Brodeur, commissioned a story for me, and I decided that would be the story that completed the book. For some reason, that story -- which turned out to be the title story -- got a lot of buzz, even before it was published. Agents started coming to me, and I wasn't sure it was a book yet and didn't want to be rushed. After all, I had waited a long time, and I really wanted it to be the best it could be. By a long time, I mean ten years. I decided to give it to an agent, Molly Friedrich, whom I had worked with after college. She was a friend, and I really trusted her. I wrote her a note that said, "I wish this were a finished book. I also wish I were 5 feet 11 and had the love of a good man." She called me a few days later, told me she loved the book and wanted to represent me, and that afternoon sent the book to a dozen publishers. The next day, most of them wanted to buy the book. So she held an auction, and I got really, really lucky.
Melissa Bank: The title I came up with when Zoetrope didn't like my first title, and they were trying to come up with one themselves. It sent me into a panic, and a few minutes later the title just came to me. As far as the jacket goes, others came before it, and it was hard to turn them down, even though I didn't think they were right, because Viking wanted so much to please me and I wanted to please them, but in the end, I think we are all thrilled with the cover. I think it really captures the spirit of the book.
Melissa Bank: Neither. I would say the overall story I was trying to tell dictated the form. I was after a kind of realism, and I think I wanted it to be like the stories we tell each other, which are more episodic. We talk about the critical moments in our lives, but I would be lying if I said I planned anything or had anything in mind. I am one of those writers whose subconscious does the work, and I try to get out of the way.
Melissa Bank: It is hard to think of myself as the new voice of anything. But I consider myself a feminist as it used to be understood as a humanitarian.
Melissa Bank: I never dated an older editor, but every emotion in the book is true. I'm really happy that people seem to believe it is autobiographical. I want it to read that way, though it is Jane's autobiography and not mine.
Melissa Bank: I am on tour right now. Atlanta? Not that I know of....
Melissa Bank: Thanks, Paula! I was rejected everywhere, everywhere. I kept myself going by teaching myself to enjoy writing -- the process of it -- and not hope for what it might bring. Generally when I would get a rejection, or an armful of rejections, I would head straight to the work table; writing was the only thing that made me feel better.
Melissa Bank: I may have to. I miss her.
Melissa Bank: I think BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY is a really good book, but I don't think our books have much in common. If someone is after another BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, they will probably get it from Helen Fielding. I would rather have readers come to my book with an open mind.
Melissa Bank: I have to say I would probably consider it renting a house with a wraparound porch in Nantucket.
Melissa Bank: Yes, it is too personal a question. No, I don't have a boyfriend.
Melissa Bank: I am working on surviving this book tour. I don't know what the next structure for the next book will be. Any ideas?
Melissa Bank: I generally wrote this book after work and on weekends. I generally come up with my material as I am sitting at the computer.
Melissa Bank: I wonder about it -- when Nick Hornby wrote HIGH FIDELITY, nobody said this is a "single guy in his 30s for readers who are single guys in their 30s." I am not sure why people are classifying me that way. I think all writers -- black, gay, straight, men, et cetera -- want to believe their books come upon universal truths. I am glad that my readers seem to include all age groups and both sexes.
Melissa Bank: Absolutely! I had to become 14 again, which is no picnic. And I wanted Jane's voice to reflect her growing up.
Melissa Bank: Edmund White's A BOY'S OWN STORY, and it was great.
Melissa Bank: I was not a good writer. I am amazed that I was accepted to Cornell's MFA program. I had to work my butt off.
Melissa Bank: I wrote the screenplay for the last story for Francis Ford Coppola, and it seems that story at least will become a movie.
Melissa Bank: I am teaching at Coppola's retreat in Belize, and I just found out that one of the writers dropped out. It is at the end of June, and Terry McMillan will also be there, and if anyone is interested, they should call Zoetrope -- 212-696-5720.
Posted July 4, 2013
This book started out ok but just got more disconnected and uninteresting as it went. it jumps from different stages in the character's life. i did not like how it was not in chronological order. overall, i would not recommend this book.
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Posted January 12, 2000
I loved the main character and found the humor fresh and interesting. The short story format did enhance the originality of the piece and I look forward to Ms. Bank's next novel with glee. I hear they are making a film out of the final short story. It will doubtless be interesting to see how they handle the inner dialogue..
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Posted April 1, 2014
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Posted July 12, 2012
Don't let Bank's spare style fool you. This book is full of deep truths about being young, growing up, falling in and out of love, and all the stupid mistakes we make along the way. I have read Girls' Guide three times now and each time was like coming home to visit your funniest and wisest college friend. If you're a novel lover who don't thinks you don't like short stories, this is really a novel in stories. If you like Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women or Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, you'll love this book. If you like good writing and characters you wish you could meet for drinks, you'll love this book. Her second book was nowhere near as good as this one--but then if I could write one book like this, I'd be eternally proud and never pick up a pen again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2012
This is the one of the best books i have read!! One of my Good friends gave me the book and i told her " you know i dont like to read" and she told me "trust me you will like it!" And she was right this book was so good that it changed my mind about reading, anyone can read ,you just need to find a book that is good for you!! <3Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2011
This book was great. I have to admit, i did get a bit confused. Did she end up with robert, ben or archie. The story went back and fourth, so i got lost. I hope jane comes back in a new book. (:Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 4, 2010
I doubt that I would have ever picked up this book if it wasn't for my Women's Popular Genres class. According to my professor, this novel was one of the first that was labeled as "chick-lit," a term used to describe postfeminist fiction. Or in other words, modern fiction that is written by women for women. I guess I can understand why Bank's witty novel falls under this category (it traces the adult life of Jane, the female protagonist), but I definitely wouldn't call it superficial. On the contrary, Jane deals with issues that go way beyond gaining a few pounds and being dumped by a boyfriend. She is also delightfully humorous, easy to relate to, and worth reading about, if you ask me. But one must take into consideration that I am, in fact, a chick-lit fan. Even so, I must ask myself, was it a story worth remembering? And, unfortunately, the answer is no.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 25, 2010
I loved this book so much, that I do not know how many times I have read it. The series of stories are very touching, regarding different stages of life: from childhood memories to grown-up relationships, looking and finding love, stuggling to make relationships work and sometimes having to let them go. What makes us adults, the road that takes us into adulthood and learning from our mistakes....without a manual. I sometimes read specific chapters instead of the whole book, and always find it moving and true to feelings, hopes and dreams.... that we must never give up even if "reality bites"....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 24, 2010
I didn't like this book as much as my friends did but it was pretty good and it makes you think. A girl trying to figure out life, ends up dating an older man, going through life, men, etc.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2010
I found this book lying in the back of my shelf. My mother had given it to me a long time ago and told me to read it. I never did and completely forgot about it. I guess I was waiting for the perfect rainy day. This book is well written and it keeps you turning page after page. It feels real and there's a lot of love and discovery in the story. It's easy to identify with the protagonist, if you are a girl. The relationships are complicated and sometimes dysfunctional but always loving and caring. I recommend watching the movie adaptation after you've read the book.
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Posted January 22, 2010
So, my sister handed me this book when I was twelve, she thought thatif I ever wanted to be a writer [in which I have wanted to become since I was seven] that I should read this book. The first time I read this, it was confusing, and rigid. But after the fifth or sixth time it began to click. This book has twist and turns and through out the story, those knicks that seem out of place overlap other knicks so it's like putting a puzzle together. I'll admit the breast cancer part threw me and left question marks hanging above my head, but then I thought that maybe Banks decided to say in a sad way that sometimes people overthink that they need someone as a crutch through hard times, but all you need is yourself and near death experience to realize that you don't. I absolutely love this book. I'm on my 56th time reading this book. And I don't plan on stopping.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 5, 2009
Seriously, don't bother. We loved it at my book club because it gave us plenty of time to have drinks and talk about EVERYTHING else but the book. It is awful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 29, 2009
The book was decent, but not one of the best I have read. There are random chapters that seem out of place throughout the book. It is more a collection of short stories than a novel. I was a pretty disappointed in the book. You are left wondering how many things turned out, or why things happened the way they did. I don't like to leave bad reviews, but I would warn against buying the book. Perhaps rent it, but I wouldn't spend the money on it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2008
A friend of mine was getting rid of some old books and not knowing anything about it, I picked up the novel and asked her if I could take it. She said sure. I read the book in less than a day and loved it. The book is very differnt in it's style and I loved that the book is written in a series of vignettes. It's cute, it's quirky, and very witty. What's not to like?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2007
The cover of this book went on and on about how funny it was and that it was about dating. This book started out slightly interesting and went downhill from there. It was less about the main character's experiences in dating and more about one long boring relationship that didn't involve sex. The book was also jumpy from one chapter to the next so it was hard to tell who was narrating or at what point in time that chapter took place. And finally the book was sad at several points. I don't find disease and death to be 'hilarious.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2007
I'm not sure why this book was recommended to me. The plot was disappointing and the story poorly written (why is there one chapter on some neighbors--never referred to before or after?). If this is a generalization of single American women...we need to change our image and gain some morals.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 13, 2006
I thought the book was great however, I'm still confused about several parts. I didn't understand why we needed the chapter where the story revolved around the neighbors' lives. I also didn't get the entire chapter where she developed breast cancer. Maybe I needed the book 'dumbed down' for me.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.