Monday, July 11, 2011

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

By Melissa Bank

Three Things I Liked About The Girls’ Guide:
1. The form
2. The story in second person
3. The namesake story

I thought this was a novel. When I picked it up at a recent book sale, I thought it was a novel. 200 pages into it, I thought it was a novel.

It’s not a novel. Not exactly. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing is actually a collection of short stories – all about the same person, and following a general and traceable timeline true to novel form – but a collection of short stories nonetheless. They each have unique titles and they could each stand alone if need be. One of them is told in second person, while the rest are narrated in detached first person. The timelines, while generally linear, does jump around some. There’s no typical novel story arc (exposition, conflict, climax, conclusion), but a series of rising and falling actions – similar to real life, actually.

The stories in The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing detail the trials and errors of one Jane Rosenal’s forays into adulthood, navigating the familiar maze of working, love, and familial life that only seems to complicate with age. The Guide begins with an episode from Jane’s late teens, observing adulthood from the outside looking in on a visit from her brother Henry and his latest girlfriend, and progress to see her following in the footsteps of him and her Aunt Rita as a publishing assistant while making her first stabs at adult romance. Jane’s narration is pretty detached almost to the point of objective, which is a style of voice that seems particularly common in short stories, but which always has the effect of making me feel apathetic toward the characters. I’m sure Bank intended the detached voice (not to mention the name “Jane”) to imply that the character and her experiences aren’t unique, but are universal to a generation of women, but the way I see it is that if Jane can’t be bothered to care too much about her problems, why should I?

That being said, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing did have its astute observations and minute characterizations, and some creative moments in the narrative. Like I said, I enjoyed the story narrated in the second person, as well as the namesake story which had Jane meeting a promising new suitor and almost mucking it up by following the advice of a dating self-help book. But somehow Jane’s experiences came off a little too generic, and I just couldn’t get invested. I like to be invested.

Books Read This Year: 57
Top 100 Progress: 46/100


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