The first time I read Melissa Bank’s THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, I was home for the last spring break of my college career. I finally pulled it off one of the shelves of our living room library, where it had lingered as a long-time resident, on one of those bitterly cold and rainy March days. Whenever I think of the novel now, I remember that afternoon in my childhood bedroom, warm and snuggled in the plaid flannel sheets (which perfectly matched the colorful spine of the book’s cover) as winter drew its last breaths outside. It became my definition of a cozy read, and it’s what I reach for whenever I want to re-create that feeling of nostalgia and contentment.
THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING is a novel in interconnected stories—all but one centering around a girl named Jane, beginning with her childhood in the suburbs and following her through young adulthood as she moves to New York City and begins a career as a book editor and a relationship with a revered (and much older) writer.
While it is often pinpointed as the book that kick-started the “chick lit” movement, I contest that it’s way more John Cheever than chick lit in the shrewd way it captures the strange sadness—and occasional absurdity—beneath the veneer of suburban life, all rendered in prose that feels effortlessly graceful in its restraint.
From the very first story, where Jane observes the rise and fall of her older brother’s first serious relationship and confesses “it scared me to think that my brother had failed at loving someone. I had no idea myself how to do it,” she establishes herself as an astute and elegiac narrator, filled with a world-weariness beyond her years. But her sharp, Dorothy Parker-esque wit offers a striking contrast to the novel’s poignancy—upon meeting her boyfriend’s intimidatingly beautiful ex-girlfriend, Jane remarks, “I myself have dated several mannequins.”
Even though the novel takes place in the nineties, there’s an old-world glamour in Jane’s life as she attends publishing parties with esteemed literati; works for an illustrious, impossibly chic—and demanding—editor; bonds with her mysterious and alluring great-aunt; and goes on weekend jaunts to her boyfriend’s charming country home. It reads like a little girl’s fantasy of grown-up life—but with added melancholy. It’s immersive and escapist, but also deeply thought-provoking and full of striking tenderness: a combination that proves to be irresistible, for a rainy day, or any other time the mood strikes you.