The Wonder Spot

( 21 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In a series of capsule vignettes, The Wonder Spot captures and recaptures Sophie Applebaum as this self-deprecating Pennsylvania girl moves through three decades of decisions, crises, and "wonder spot" moments of recognition. Touching snapshots of a life in progress, by the author of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
From the Publisher
"Prodigiously talented, mordantly wry and wise, Bank offers... irresistible reading." —San Francisco Chronicle

"A five-course meal: loaded with pleasure." —Los Angeles Times

"Bank possesses a prodigious talent for snappy one-liners, and her self-deprecating anecdotes belie intelligence and sophistication." —The Washington Post

"Bittersweet, tremendously winning... enthralling and engaging." —Entertainment Weekly

Jenny McPhee
In the end Sophie never finds the perfect job or the perfect boyfriend, but she finds a way to have perfect moments as often as she can. 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.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Fans of the megasuccessful Girl's 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. 12-city author tour. Agent, Molly Friedrich. (June 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bank's second novel, after her widely popular The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, introduces an authentic new voice in women's fiction: Sophie Applebaum of Surrey, PA. Like many middle children born in between gifted siblings (Jack, an all-around golden boy, and the precocious and highly intelligent Robert), Sophie struggles to define herself. Over the course of 20 years, we follow her to Hebrew school, college, her first job, and beyond. The first of these vignettes delight: the young Sophie-neither demonstrably intelligent nor particularly talented-manages nonetheless to assert herself as a heroine with a quirky keen eye for human motivation and the absurd. It's a pity, then, that as the novel progresses, Sophie seems to recede, her voice lost in a rotating roster of boyfriends. It's almost as if Bank weren't quite sure where to take her character and in the end dumps her on the arm of another boyfriend, no more edified. This may be Bank's way of refusing the pat chick-lit ending (although Sophie still ends up attached), but it feels a bit like giving up. Still, this is sure to be in high demand. Recommended to all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/05.]-Tania Barnes, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another engaging, ruefully funny saga of a young woman growing up without ever quite fitting in, from the author of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999). Sophie Applebaum introduces herself to us en route from her home in suburban Philadelphia to a cousin's bat mitzvah. At 12, she's already witty, mildly insecure and determined in her aimless way not to do anything she doesn't want to. These character traits will be familiar to Bank's previous readers, and the author again favors the interlinked-stories format as she drops in on Sophie at various life-defining moments. "Boss of the World" sketches out the family dynamic: quiet, much-loved father; anxious, hectoring mother; unreliable but charming big brother Jack; follow-the-rules little brother Robert, and Sophie in the middle, vaguely discomfited by them all. In subsequent stories/chapters, she drifts through a mediocre college, makes something of an effort to land a job in publishing (actually learning to type), negotiates complex friendships with women usually more assured than she, and meets any number of Mr. Wrongs, who range from self-absorbed to philandering to nice-enough-but-not-The-One. (That constitutes progress for Sophie.) Robert marries aggressively orthodox Naomi; Jack flits from woman to woman before settling down with a well-connected real estate agent-"he would work to be part of Mindy's family as he'd never worked to be part of our family," his sister comments sardonically. After her father's death, Sophie grows more tender toward her mother, acknowledging their shared vulnerability. She even learns to love her maternal grandmother, once critical and difficult but considerably softened by a stroke and animpending date with the Grim Reaper. Though the Applebaums all get off plenty of good wisecracks, the overall tone here is faintly melancholy. The last snapshot is of a 40ish Sophie, who has a new job and a decade-younger boyfriend, but isn't exactly dancing in the aisles. Very appealing, but more mature insights don't entirely compensate for the fact that both heroine and storyline greatly resemble their predecessors in Bank's best-selling debut. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143037217
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/30/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 702,558
  • Product dimensions: 5.07 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Melissa Bank

Melissa Bank, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing,   won the 1993 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction. She has published stories in the Chicago Tribune, Zoetrope, The North American Review, Other Voices, and Ascent. Her work has also been heard on "Selected Shorts" on National Public Radio. She holds an MFA from Cornell University and divides her time between New York City and East Hampton.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 11, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Hobart William Smith, 1982; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1987

Read an Excerpt

The Wonder Spot


By Melissa Bank

Viking Adult

ISBN: 0-670-03411-8


Chapter One

BOSS OF THE WORLD

You could tell it was going to be a perfect beach day, maybe the best one all summer, maybe the last one of our vacation, and we were going to spend it at my cousin's bat mitzvah in Chappaqua, New York. My mother had weeks ago gone over exactly what my brothers and I would wear; now, suddenly, she worried that my dress, bought particularly for this event, wasn't dressed-up enough. She despaired at the light cotton, no longer seeing the tiny, hand-embroidered blue flowers she'd been so charmed by in the store. She said the dress looked "peasanty," which was what I liked about it. Maybe tights would help, she said; did I have tights? "No," I said, and my face added, Why would I bring tights to the seashore? When she said that we could pick some up on the way to Chappaqua, I reminded her that the only shoes I had with me were the sandals I had on. I said, "They'll look great with tights."

"You don't have any other shoes?"

"Flip-flops," I said. "Sneakers."

My older brother came to my door. "Dad says we have to go."

She turned to Jack now and said, "Is your jacket small?"

If it was, I didn't see it, but my mother had already worked herself up into what she called a tizzy. "How is it possible for a person to outgrow a suit in a matter of weeks?" she wondered aloud, as though we had an unsolvable mystery or a miracle before us, instead of the result of Jack lifting weights and running all summer. He'd lost his blubber and added muscles where once there had been none; about once a day I'd put my hand around his bicep, and he'd flex it for me.

My father appeared in my doorway. "Just unbutton the jacket," he said.

Jack did, and my mother said a small, "Oh."

Then my father said, "Let's go," meaning, We are going now.

We followed our leader out to the driveway.

My little brother, Robert, was already in the station wagon, reading All About Bats, in his irreproachable seersucker suit. Beside him, our standard poodle sat tall and regal, facing the windshield as though anticipating the scenery to come.

When my mother tried to coax the dog out of the car, Robert said, "He wants to come with us."

"The dog will be more comfortable here," she said.

I thought, We'd all be more comfortable here.

Robert said, "Please don't call Albert 'the dog.'"

My father said, "Never mind, Joyce," and my mother said, "Fine," in the tone of, I give up.

I was about to get in the car when she said, "You're not wearing a slip." I'd decided slips were a pointless formality, like the white gloves my mother had finally given up asking me to wear. But she said, "You can see right through."

I was horrified: All I had on were white underpants. "You can?"

Robert said, "Just in the sun," and I relaxed; bat mitzvahs were seldom held alfresco.

My father said, "Everybody in the car."

I sat in the way back of the station wagon with Albert, farthest from my mother's tizzy and my father's irritation, though I would also be farthest from the air-conditioning, which would be turned on once my mother realized the wind was messing up her hair.

Until then, my brothers rolled their windows down all the way, and Albert and I caught what breeze we could.

I had to close my eyes when we drove by the parking lot for the beach, but Robert turned full around at the tennis courts.

"Dad?" he said. "If we get home early enough, will you hit with me?"

I could hear the effort it took for my father to make his voice gentle: "We won't get home early enough."

Robert said, "But if we do?"

"If we do," my father said, "I would be delighted to play with you."

Robert was just going into fifth grade and would probably be the smallest boy in his class again, but he was almost as good a tennis player as my father. Robert ran for every shot, no matter how hopelessly high or unhittably hard; he was as consistent as a backboard. At the courts, he'd play with anyone who asked-the lacquered ladies who needed a fourth, the stubby surgeon who kept a lit cigarette gritted between his teeth, the little girl who got distracted by butterflies.

* * *

On the Garden State Parkway, nobody spoke. My parents were miserable, probably because they'd agreed not to smoke in the car. Robert was miserable because they were, though he was the reason they weren't smoking. He was always begging them to quit, and they half pretended they had.

I was miserable because we were rushing toward the boredom only a bat mitzvah could bring. Jack seemed oblivious; he was looking out the window. Maybe he was imagining himself away at college, which he and my father talked about nonstop. Whenever I reminded Jack that it was a whole year away, he'd say how fast it would go; I'd say, "How do you know?" a question apparently undeserving of a reply.

* * *

Rebecca, whose bat mitzvah we were going to celebrate, was hardly even related to me. Our mothers were distant cousins who'd learned to walk on the same street of row houses in West Philadelphia, and then when their families had moved to the suburbs, the cousins had gone to the same private school, camp, and college. I'd seen pictures of them as babies in sun bonnets in Atlantic City, as girls in plaid shorts in the Adirondacks, as young women in sunglasses in Paris. Both were petite, both had dark hair, and my mother said that both had gotten too thin during their phase of Jackie Onassis worship.

In my opinion, Aunt Nora still was, and Rebecca was even thinner. She was a ballerina and kept her shoulders back too far and her head up too high; she would sometimes swoop into ballet jumps out of nowhere-when the four of us were trying to find the car in a parking lot, for example.

That winter she'd been the understudy for Clara in The Nutcracker Suite in New York City, and my mother had insisted we go. I said, "In case the real Clara breaks her leg?"

"We're going because it'll be fun," she said. "It's an enormous honor for Rebecca to be in the ballet."

"She's not in it," I said.

During the ballet I tried to be open-minded, but it made no sense to me; it seemed as likely for a girl to dance with a nutcracker as with a corkscrew or an egg beater.

During lunch, when Aunt Nora asked how I'd liked the performance, I said, "It wasn't my cup of tea," a phrase my mother had instructed me to use in place of yuck but which now seemed to affect Aunt Nora as my yucks had my mother.

Flustered, I told Rebecca that I was sure the ballet would have been better if she'd been in it, and added a sympathetic, "I'm sorry you weren't picked."

I didn't realize my mistake until Rebecca scowled. Aunt Nora gave my mother a look, which was the same as talking about me while I was there.

On the train back to Philadelphia, my mother pretended that the four of us had enjoyed a splendid afternoon. She admired how thin and delicate Rebecca was. "Like a long-stemmed rose," she said.

I said, "She's more like a long piece of hair with hair."

I expected my mother to be angry, but instead she seemed almost glad-not that she said so. What she said was, "You might become friends when you're older."

I said, "I don't think so."

"Why not, puss?"

I shrugged. I told her that Rebecca had turned down a piece of gum I'd offered by saying, "I don't chew gum-it's not ladylike."

My mother saw nothing wrong with this; it was something she herself might've said. She repeated a ditty from her early life with Aunt Nora: "We don't smoke and we don't chew, and we don't go with boys who do."

My mother told the same stories over and over-maybe twenty-five in all; if you added them up, there were only about two hours of her life that she wanted me to know about.

* * *

At a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, we stretched our legs until my mother returned from the ladies' room.

When she did, Robert said, "You look great, Mom."

She did look great. The day before, she'd driven herself to Philadelphia to have her hair professionally colored, a wise decision, as her hair had turned orangey in the sun.

Back in the car, my father said he liked her dress, a mod print in yellow and pink.

I said, "It's a designer dress," which was what my mother had told me.

Now that the trouble seemed to have passed and the air-conditioning was on, I considered asking Robert to trade places with me.

My father, who could be what my mother called a reverse snob, said that all dresses were designer dresses; someone had designed them.

"Not Pucci," my mother said in a haughty voice.

"Ah," my father said, "putting on the dog," which was supposed to be a joke, but she didn't laugh.

I stayed where I was. I patted Albert's fleecy black coat. Looking into his sad eyes, I said, "I know just how you feel."

* * *

We were on the exit ramp for Chappaqua when my mother turned around and smiled in a way that had nothing to do with happiness. It was her way of saying, Smile, without risking the opposite, at least from me.

Before we walked into the synagogue, she said, "I'm so proud of all of you," like she was making a commercial about our family.

This synagogue was about twice as big as the one we went to, and the service seemed ten times as long, as it was almost entirely in Hebrew, a language I did not speak.

Finally Rebecca went to the podium, her toes pointed out. She seemed glad to be up there, in her chiffony pink dress, white tights, and black Mary Janes. She wore her hair back in a looped braid tied with a pink satin ribbon, though she might as well have been wearing a halo the way my mother gazed up at her.

For a second Rebecca looked out at the audience, at her family and her friends and her family's friends and all of the religious fanatics who had chosen to spend the most beautiful day of the entire summer inside. It occurred to me that she saw us as her public, and maybe she wished she could dance the part of Clara that she'd worked so hard to learn.

Then she looked down at the Torah the rabbi had ceremoniously undressed and unscrolled, and she began to read aloud. I kept thinking that she would have to stop soon, but I was wrong about that. She seemed to be reading the entire Torah up there.

Maybe she'd learned how to pronounce the Hebrew words, but you could tell she had no idea what they meant. She read with zero expression, as though reciting the Hebrew translation of a phone book or soup label, the only semblance of an intonation a pause at the end of a listing or ingredient.

In contrast, my mother, who was no more fluent in Hebrew than I, appeared utterly enthralled; she even nodded occasionally as though finding this or that passage especially insightful and moving.

Hebrew comprehension wasn't the only thing my mother was faking. When I pulled her wrist over to look at her watch and made a face that signified, I'm dying, she posed her mouth in a smile. Then she held my hand as though we were in love.

I couldn't see my father, but I thought he probably liked how long the service was. He'd become more religious since his own father had died. Before, my father had only gone to services on the major holidays with us, but now he sometimes went on Friday nights, too. He walked, as the Orthodox did, even though he was heading toward our Reform synagogue, the least religious one possible. Usually my mother went with him, but one night he'd gone alone. I'd watched him from my window, and it was strange to see him walking down our suburban street by himself.

* * *

I was so relieved when the service was over that I let my mother kiss me. Then it was time to go downstairs to what was called a luncheon instead of lunch.

The catering hall was decorated with pink drapes, pink carpeting, and pink tablecloths; a pink tutu encircled each centerpiece of pink roses. Even the air seemed pink.

My mother found the pink place card with my name and table number; she announced that I was sitting with Rebecca and the other twelve- and thirteen-year-olds at table #13, as in, Great news! Like most adults, my mother seemed to believe that a nearby birth date was all kids required for instant friendship.

I told her that I hoped she got to sit with the other forty-one- and forty-two-year-olds. I spotted #13 at the edge of the dance floor but took my time getting there; I circled tables, pretending I didn't know where mine was. When I did sit down, Rebecca didn't even look up; I imagined her saying to her mother, Does Sophie have to sit with us?

The boy next to her resembled the boy I liked at my school, Eric Green-blond, dimples-and he must have asked who I was; I heard Rebecca say the words My cousin, while her tone said, Nobody.

The bandleader called Rebecca's grandparents up to the stage to say the blessing over the candles; he said, "Put your hands together for Grandpa Nathan," while the band played "Light My Fire."

I felt free to eat my roll.

Then a girl wearing a gold necklace that spelled Alyssa in script said, "Where are you from?"

"Surrey, Pennsylvania," I said. "It's outside of Philadelphia."

"I've been to the Pennsylvania Dutch country," she said. "You know, the Amish?"

I'd been there, too, and was about to say so, but she turned away from me, as though living in Pennsylvania instead of New York made me less like her than the somber people whose beliefs forbade the driving of cars and the wearing of zippers.

To the table at large, Alyssa said, "Who's going to Lori's bat mitzvah?"

I felt a pang that I hadn't been invited to the bat mitzvah of a girl I didn't even know.

I was wishing I could get up and leave, but a second later there was no need; the band went from "Hava Nagila" to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog," and everybody at my table got up to dance. I saw that all the girls were wearing tights; they probably had slips on, too.

I ate my chicken and watched the dance floor.

You could tell Rebecca saw herself as the belle of the bat mitzvah, but the grace that served her so well in ballet deserted her at rock 'n' roll. Maybe she wasn't used to dancing with her heels on the ground; she marched like a majorette in a parade or, it occurred to me, like the nutcracker in The Nutcracker.

The boy who looked like Eric Green danced like him, too; he barely did anything except jerk his overgrown bangs out of his eyes and mouth the occasional phrase, such as, "Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea."

He stayed in one spot while Alyssa go-go danced around him. I studied her, trying to memorize the way she shimmied and swiveled; then I remembered that I'd tried moves like these in front of the mirror in my parents' bedroom and discovered the huge gap between how I wanted to look when I danced and how I actually did look.

I got up to visit my brothers. But Robert was performing his disappearing-nickel trick for the children's table, and Jack was sitting between two girls. One with wavy hair and glasses was making him laugh, and the other, very pretty, was jiggling one high heel to the music. I wished that for once he would like the funny one, but as I stood there I saw him ask the other girl to dance.

I almost bumped into Aunt Nora greeting guests at the eighty-plus table. She wore a pale blue sleeveless dress and her hair up in a bun plus bangs. It seemed possible that she was trying to look like Audrey Hepburn, and she did a little; both gave the impression of fragility, though Aunt Nora's seemed to come from tension and Audrey's from innocence.

Aunt Nora made a kissing sound and squeezed my shoulder, which felt less like affection than a Fact-not, I like you, but, You are the daughter of an old friend.

I knew there was some appropriate thing my mother wanted me to say, but I couldn't remember what and just offered the standard, "Thank you for having me."

She said, "Thank you for coming," which came out cubbing; Aunt Nora suffered from allergies. I said, "You're welcome," and asked where my parents were sitting; she pointed.

As a judge, my father was an expert at making his face blank, but I could tell he didn't like the man who was talking to him. I cruised right over.

I heard the man say, "Am I right, or am I right?" and then my father noticed me and excused himself from their conversation.

In a low voice, he said, "How's it going?"

"Bad," I told him. "Very bad."

He stood up and put his arm around my shoulders; he walked me away from the table and said, "Want to dance?"

The band was playing "The Impossible Dream"; I said, "This one's kind of schmaltzy."

He said, "Do you know what schmaltz is?"

"I thought I did."

"Chicken fat," he said. He told me that people spread it on bread, and we needed to go to a Jewish restaurant so I could try some.

I said, "Could we go right now?"

He took my hand, and I let him move me around to the chicken-fatty music.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
What is it that defines a person’s identity? Is it the grand events—births, marriages, deaths—or the small moments, the revelations that take us by surprise? In Melissa Bank’s new novel, The Wonder Spot, destiny is in the details as she focuses on a series of small discoveries and how they build a life. The life in question is that of Sophie Applebaum, Bank’s always charming, occasionally awkward, new heroine. Narrated in Sophie’s comic, confessional voice, The Wonder Spot charts her progress through a series of interconnected stories; from boys and bat mitzvahs to careers and commitment, each episode is a milestone in Sophie’s journey. As she stumbles along, failures and successes begin to add up and she discovers that identities aren’t found, they are formed—one moment at a time.

From adolescence to adulthood, Bank outlines Sophie’s joys and miseries in falling in love, finding a job, and figuring herself out. Although initially more defined by what she isn’t than what she is, Sophie develops herself, subtly and significantly, through her friends, lovers, and family. Bank is attentive to the nuances of Sophie’s relationships in all stages of her life, deftly illustrating both their strength and fragility. While some friends inspire Sophie to be bolder and braver than she might otherwise be (ditching Hebrew school or buying an outrageous new dress), a few fade away under the strain of competition or jealousy—often surfacing in relation to romantic issues. In fact, Sophie moves through a series of romantic connections and friendships, refining her sense of what she needs and what she’s willing to give for love. But those who remain closest to Sophie are her two brothers, brilliant, dutiful Robert, and dashing, irresponsible Jack; they, along with the rest of her family, bring both comfort and complications into her life. As Sophie begins to establish her identity on her own terms, issues of independence, infidelity, and religion alter her understanding and expectations of family, friends, and herself. Yet the one constant amid all is Sophie’s wry, self-deprecating sense of humor; no matter the confusion, frustration, heartache, or joy. Sophie’s stumbles are as hilarious as her successes are heartwarming, and her relationships with others lead her toward her own identity: who she is, what she wants, and where she is going.

With her celebrated honesty and humor, Melissa Bank has created a loving and layered look at the everyday experiences that define us. As the author of the wildly successful The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Bank is known for her warm and witty insight into love and life, and while her previous book established her popularity, this newest work is sure to secure it.The Wonder Spot delivers Sophie through the slings and arrows of a real life, filled with mistakes and minor victories but most especially with the moments when it all begins to make sense.

ABOUT MELISSA BANK

Melissa Bank, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, won the 1993 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction. She has published stories in the Chicago Tribune, Zoetrope, The North American Review, Other Voices, and Ascent. Her work has also been heard on "Selected Shorts" on National Public Radio. She holds an MFA from Cornell University and divides her time between New York City and East Hampton.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW
What inspired the title, The Wonder Spot?

What inspired the title was a photograph from the forties of a bench or maybe a glider with the sign THE WONDER SPOT above it.

Did you write the book chronologically or did some sections of the book develop before others? What do you like most and least about the process of writing?

I didn’t write the book at all chronologically. I was all over the place—Sophie at thirty-eight and then twenty-one and back to twelve, like that.

What I like most about writing is when I’m in the middle of a story and seeing everything and hearing everything and the story is more real to me than my real life; I’ve become my narrator and am barely conscious of myself at all. What I like least is when I’m completely, cripplingly self-conscious, which usually happens when I’m trying to start a story and can’t. I’m on the outside, and all I can do is write studied, dead sentences and all I can see are my own limitations—your basic writer’s block, which is my one field of expertise.

Love is not a happy-ever-after affair in your books but a trial-and-error process. Despite the fact that Hollywood continues to churn out the Prince Charming stories, why do you think your realistic portrayal of the decidedly non-fairy tale modern romance has struck a chord with so many readers?

I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this question. I guess what I think is that love is a great mystery, and there are a million different versions and all of them are unique, and we all just try to figure it out as we go. Maybe everyone has Hollywood or Hallmark ideas about love—but also we want something authentic. Practically everyone I know struggles.

Why did you set your two novels in and around New York? How important is setting to your work?

Really important. In both books, the suburbs represent the comfort and limitations of home—the family of origin, as the shrinks say—whereas New York, however hard it can be, represents possibility.

Can you describe your experience of being a young woman in New York?

That first year, when I was working as an editorial assistant in publishing, I lived with Amy, my best friend from college, in a sublet in Midtown. The apartment was tiny—there wasn’t even enough room to walk around the bed—and Amy went to sleep early. I didn’t mind. I was just beginning to write seriously, and I’d go into the bathroom, which was big compared to the rest of the apartment, and write in the tub.

After a while, though, we both began to feel kind of trapped. We didn’t really like our jobs, and we could barely live on what we made. Amy waited tables on weekends in upstate New York, where she’d grown up and her boyfriend still lived. One night, we got this idea—I don’t remember whose it was—of renting a house in the country and commuting to work. We envisioned a primitive cottage, maybe without electricity, maybe in the woods. The idea sustained us for months. “We’re going to the country,” we’d say, as a kind of rallying cry. We didn’t, though—or I didn’t. When our sublet was up, I moved into another one. Amy quit her job, moved upstate and wound up marrying her boyfriend.

Do you think modern romance is more or less difficult than it was for your parents’ generation? What kind of example did your parents set for you?

I don’t know if it’s more or less difficult. What I think about is how pressured women must have felt to get married. I felt that pressure earlier in my life and it was crushing. Even thinking about it makes me feel like I have a plastic bag over my head.

My parents seemed to love each other very much; I think they were devoted to each other. But I never saw anything there I could emulate. My mother was very traditional—is very conventional—and deferring to my father seemed to come naturally to her.

You’ve been compared with J. D. Salinger and John Cheever among others. Would you say that those are fair comparisons? From which writers do you draw inspiration?

What a beautiful, beautiful question. What if I said, “Yes, I think it’s fair to compare me to Salinger and Cheever”? I met someone recently who said, “Like Bob Dylan, I . . .” and, “I write like Doestoevsky,” and I thought, Of course you do.

I’m most inspired by writers who make writing look easy and natural—Tobias Wolff, Nick Hornby, Matt Klam. I’m really inspired by the poet Billy Collins. Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors made me want to write.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How does Sophie’s relationship with her mother inform the relationships she has with other women? Why is it important to Sophie’s mom that she have a bat mitzvah? Why doesn’t Sophie want a bat mitzvah?
     
  • Why doesn’t Sophie promise Dena that she won’t go out with Matthew? Should she have? Who is the most selfish person in that scenario? Why are they not able to salvage their friendship?
     
  • Why does Melissa Bank end the book with the tale of Sophie and Seth? Was this a satisfying ending?
     
  • Sophie says to Bobby, “You’ll never get beyond your hardwiring” (p. 219). What does this mean? Do you think this is a fair statement for everyone? Do you think Sophie is able to get beyond her hardwiring?
     
  • What does Honey, the publishing firm executive, represent to Sophie? What does Francine represent? Though Francine works harder than anyone at the company, why does she not succeed?
     
  • If Sophie does not measure her happiness and self-worth through her career or her romance, how does she measure it? How has she changed over the course of the two decades covered in the book?
     
  • Why does Sophie’s mother hide her relationship with Lev Polikoff from her children? When confronted with Sophie’s knowledge, why does her mother say, “I meant my marriage was sacred”?
     
  • Sophie says, “With so much sky and so much river, you couldn’t help seeing the big picture. It was what you already knew, but crowding into the subway or rushing to a movie, you only saw it for a second, and close up. Now I took a good long look. I’d always heard you couldn’t see stars in Manhattan because of all the lights. But here they all were. Here was my night in shining armor” (p. 313). Why does Bank describe this image at the end of “The One After You”? Why does she choose the pun “night in shining armor”?
     
  • Why can’t Neil bring Sophie to see his daughter? What does it mean to Sophie? Why does Bank reveal the details of Sophie’s mother’s affair in the same chapter she uses to talk about Sophie and Neil? What do the two relationships have in common?
     
  • Of the three Applebaum children, Robert marries young and finds himself somewhat confined, Jack is strong-armed into marrying into a huge set of obligations and family demands, and Sophie remains single into her early thirties. What is Bank suggesting about the nature of love, marriage, and expectation?
     
  • By the end of the book, how might Sophie define “success in love”?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Giggle Out Loud

    Melissa Banks' writing is witty and peppy. Her character and story kept me interested enough to finish the book. But do you know how some stories and characters live in your blood for the time you're reading the book? And you might even start to speak like the character? This didn't quite happen with The Wonder Spot. Still, an engaging tale and well worth it for the funny moments.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2006

    A Perfect Beach Read

    This sweet often funny story moves very fast. It is not the best, most well written book I have ever read (or read recently, for that matter) but it is at times laugh out loud funny, and certainly rings true from time to time. I read this in about 2 sittings at the beach and at home, and was glad I did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    I think it was better that her first

    Fabulous! I found the main character very easy to relate to in this one. And I liked the fact that you had to think about how each story fit together into one book. I also could not put it down and was very very pleased with the ending. It was not the cliched 'happily ever after.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2005

    Didn't want to put it down

    The stories are cute so sad to finish it but can't put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 25, 2009

    Not a great book

    boring

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2009

    same as her first book, but not as great

    I liked this book, I love the way Bank writes. It was an easy read that you didn't want to put down, but I had a hard time with it because I thought the main character was the exact same as the main character from her first book, the Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing (which I absolutely loved.) The main characters had the same sense of humor, the same jobs, the same family, the same attitude and it was also written in the same style. But unlike the Girls Guide, Bank didn't really spend too much time in this book developing relationships between Sophie and anybody. The stories weren't as touching, and although I just finished this book a few weeks ago, I don't really remember that much of it. This book felt like she was trying to re-create her first but fell short.

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good read.......didn't like the ending

    Book was good however I wished that there was a sequel or it ended differently.

    But other than that I really enjoyed the book

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2007

    Okay, not great

    I agree with most, it was a good easy read. It was also blah. I think the author got bored with it. I wonder if she was forced a deadline to write this book and this is what happened.....Will be interesting to see if she ever comes out with anything else....

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2006

    Disappointing Ending

    I liked this story until the final chapter which shares the same title as the book. It seemed as if the author got tired of writing and just slapped one last part in. Nothing felt pulled together. Very unsatisfying ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2006

    Good but not great

    I really liked this book compared to Banks other book that I didn't even finish. I felt Wonder Spot really captured the confusion of being in your mid20s and trying to find a career, a soul mate, and direction. I think that is why the book ended the way it did, it kinda keeps in the tone of the books confusion and overwhelmingness of finding out who you are and becoming a grown up.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2005

    Wait for the paperback

    Like most other reviewers, I really enjoyed Banks' last book, Girl's Guide To Hunting and Fishing. Wonder Spot has the same sense of style and humor, but it manages to fall short of expectations. Each story is capable of standing on its own, but the repetition of characters and references throughout the book detract, not add, to the overall read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2005

    Doesn't match up to her first novel

    I have to say I am quite disappointed by this book. Like many people, I loved the first one, and when this book came out, I bought it without any hesitation. I still like her use of words and the unique way of see things, but without a theme, this book looks like pieces of life stories put together just for the creation of a book. After reading the first 60 pages, I almost wanted to stop reading it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2005

    Brilliant!

    Melissa Banks has done it again. This is simply a MUST READ. Her words and stories are like spending time with your very best friend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2005

    Okay, but not great!

    I loved The Girl's Guide, and I've read and re-read it over the last 4 years. I was at the bookstore for this one the day it came out, and was shockingly disappointed from the beginning. It is a shadow of Banks¿ last novel -- situations and some names are even the same, but unlike Jane from The Girl¿s Guide, I never got a sense of what Sophie is really like. I caught glimpses of her, but at the end I couldn't tell you who she is, or where she encounters her wonder spots. When I reached the end, I didn't care more for her than I did at the beginning. Take your time getting to the bookstore for this one. Or better yet, wait your turn at the library.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2005

    Light, Enjoyable Read

    I read this entertaining novel in two days. I love the way Melissa Banks uses words to describe events in the life of a quirky and naive-but-learning woman. Banks uses the same layout of her popular novel 'The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing', capturing her protagonists' life in snapshots over the course of her life. Though Banks doesn't go much beyond her first novel, it still retains the charm and quick, readable flow. I yearned for more and realized it was one of those novels you don't want to end. I believe this is a perfect summer read which will have you thirsting for another great book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2005

    More books from Melissa Banks, please!!

    I did not read her first book, the Girls' Guide To Hunting and Fishing. After reading The Wonder Spot (in one day because I couldn't put it down), I have ordered the first book, and I hope that there will be many more books by this wonderful author. She is a breath of fresh air from lots of other contemporary female authors! Thanks, Melissa.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2005

    when book deals go bad

    Reading this, I got the feeling that Banks was offered a book deal after the success of Girls Guide. When the deadline was approaching, she pulled out scrapped chapters and revamped them to fit another story. I was totally disapointed and only read to the end hoping for the kind of soul affirming, tell all my single friends moment I experienced in Girls Guide. If Banks was not a published author with a previously successful book, this would have never been published.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews

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