I first heard of Ms. Bank last fall when our Sunday paper ran an advance on her appearance at a local college. In the article she resisted being called a writer of chick lit, noting the media's tendency to lump all women authors of a certain age together as chick lit writers.
Now that I have read both her books, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing being her first, I understand why Ms. Bank doesn't like the categorization.
Nor is she that handily categorized.
Not that I'm too high-brow for chick lit, trust me. Chick lit certainly has its place in the literary world.
But her work is too well crafted to be pigeonholed as chick lit. And, frankly, Ms. Bank isn't a chick. She's a fortysomething woman, both sensitive and observant.
Nor are her observations written in that youthful or frivolous mindset one expects from chick lit authors.
The Wonder Spot's protagonist, Sophie Applebaum, is barely-a-teenager at the beginning of the book. But Sophie is a soul wise beyond her years, a refined soul, to use a little reincarnation lingo.
Because Ms. Bank uses first-person narration, the reader watches Sophie's world unfold around her. At the same time it is a treat for the reader to be in Sophie's head throughout the book, one keenly empathizes with Sophie, who is more observer than participant in her own life.
The Wonder Spot is not a conventional novel, so don't expect one from it. It is more a story cycle book or what is sometimes called a novel-in-stories that fast-forwards with Sophie to key points in her life--from her teenage years to the present day.
Each chapter can stand on its own as a piece of short fiction. In each she dangles a theme, threads it throughout the piece, and ties in up in a bow by the end of the story, so skillfully, you can only say, "Ahhh." And then ask, "How'd she do that?"
Women of a certain age can relate to young Sophie as she comes of age in the 70s. Married and mommied women and those who have never lived in a big city will appreciate the chance to live along with Sophie as a single woman living in Manhattan, working in the publishing industry.
But this book is much more than a nostalgic lift or a chance to live vicariously in someone else's pumps.
The Wonder Spot is insightful, graceful prose that gently asks the reader to resist the temptation to read for plot because if she does, she'll miss the glow that warms her from the inside as she lingers and subsequently basks in Ms. Bank's realizations.
Sophie's experiences are interesting but not out of the ordinary. It's the unique way Ms. Bank tells of them that makes this book resonate.
Ms. Bank doesn't hammer you with her humor. But there is humor in nearly every line, wry and comfortable asides, and just when you've come to expect you can settle into her book like a pair of comfy slippers, she surprises you with a wistful or tender revelation and jostles you out of your complacency.
I read a lot of books. Okay maybe not as many as my husband, but then he's not a writer. But this book was one that I'll never forget.
If you like character-driven fiction and can appreciate well-crafted writing, try The Wonder Spot.