Melissa Bank, author of ‘Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing’, has died


Melissa Bank, who brought an acerbic sense of humour, a minimalist prose style and a keen eye for human behavior to her literary explorations of love, loss and family, most notably in the collection of success stories “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing”. ,” died August 2 at her home in East Hampton, NY, on Long Island. She was 61 years old.

The cause was lung cancer, said his brother, Andrew Bank.

A methodical writer who continually reworked her sentences and paragraphs, Ms. Bank worked for nearly two decades on “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing” (1999) and “The Wonder Spot” (2005), collections of related short stories centered about fiery, intelligent young women in search of love and creative fulfillment. Both books were widely acclaimed, although some reviewers called them “girls’ beds”, a term Ms Bank found “disparaging to both readers and writers”.

“It’s like saying that these are books written by girls, about girls and for girls, and that what happens to a single woman has no consequence for anyone but herself. or other women,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 2005.

Most of the seven stories in “The Girls’ Guide” were told by Jane Rosenthal, who grew from a smug teenager to a 35-year-old woman vaguely resembling her literary creator. Like Mrs. Bank, she worked in publishing and then advertising, was recovering from breast cancer, had a relationship with a much older man (an impotent, alcoholic book publisher for Jane; a teacher for Mrs. Bank) and was forced to confront her father’s untimely death.

The character usually had a quip or stunt double ready, including when her lover encouraged her to come work for him. “I could charge you for that,” she replied, explaining that he was guilty of “workplace harassment in the sexual place.” Other passages suggested his loneliness in a single sentence: “He gave me a kiss on the cheek, as if he always had.”

Released a few years after Helen Fielding’s best-selling novel ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, ‘The Girls’ Guide’ became a publishing phenomenon, selling at auction for $275,000 – “rare for a novice, let alone a ‘a book of short stories’, the New York Times observed – and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Its main story was optioned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and two other stories were adapted into a 2007 film, “Suburban Girl,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin.

Book reviewers have admired Ms Bank’s crystalline prose – Los Angeles Times critic Susan Salter Reynolds said she “writes like John Cheever, only funnier” – and many fans have felt an intimate connection with the author herself, seeing their own lives mirrored in Jane’s romantic misadventures. . During a book tour for ‘The Girls’ Guide’, some readers asked Ms Bank to enter the book, ‘To my best friend’.

“In those cases,” she told The New York Times, “I always write, ‘I feel so close to you right now.’”

In a telephone interview, her longtime editor, Carole DeSanti, observed that Ms Bank displayed “a kind of radical honesty about emotional experience and emotional life,” writing about sex and romance while examining how relationships are influenced by family dynamics, work, and culture popular. His choice of subject meant that she was often overlooked as a prose stylist, DeSanti added, even as she worked to craft sentences that “read absolutely effortlessly.”

“That’s what makes it different,” she said. “She shaved the writing – the language – very, very close to the emotional experience. And when she did that, when she got it right, people just responded.

The second of three children, Melissa Susan Bank was born in Boston in 1960. Her precise date of birth could not be immediately confirmed. She grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb she described as a place “you were supposed to have a happy childhood, but you weren’t.”

His mother, a former schoolteacher with a passion for languages, kept an unabridged Random House dictionary on an antique high chair, placing it outside the dining room for easy access. Her father was a neurologist who died of leukemia in his late 50s, having kept the disease a secret for nearly a decade, much to Ms Bank’s astonishment.

“For a long time, I treated life as if it wasn’t real yet, that I was waiting. My father’s death made me realize that everything matters,” she told The New York Times.

After graduating in 1982 from Hobart and William Smith colleges in Geneva, NY, she worked in publishing in New York and returned to school, earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Cornell University in 1988. By then she had started writing “The Girls’ Guide,” which took her 12 years to complete.

She supported herself by working for the New York advertising agency McCann Erickson, writing copy for Stayfree Maxi blocks and Marriott hotels. The work taught her the value of brevity, she said. “You are a Hoover salesman knocking on the door. You better have something to say and say it well enough and convincingly.

When she won a Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction in 1993, she felt her career was about to take off. But she was diagnosed with breast cancer the following year, and while cycling home from radiation therapy in Manhattan, she was hit by a car. The accident left her with persistent post-concussive symptoms; for months she was unable to read and was missing some of her vocabulary.

“For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt devastated and vulnerable,” she recalled in a 2005 essay for The Washington Post. “I felt like death was leaning in to kiss him.”

Ms Bank recovered, but she told the Guardian in 1999 that even before the accident she suffered from aphasia, suffered from severe migraines and sometimes had difficulty speaking. Once, while reading, she forgot the title of her own book.

She spent five years writing its sequel, “The Wonder Spot,” which spanned two decades in the life of Sophie Applebaum, with each chapter focusing on a different relationship in her life. New York Times book reviewer Janet Maslin called it a “better refined and more stable volume” than her first, although sales lagged by comparison.

“I’m completely obsessed with it, and I’m obsessed with the fact that hardly anyone has heard of it,” Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman wrote in 2020. She added: “In many ways, Bank is as much a stylist as [Edward] St Aubyn, who also always chooses the perfect word. But while he’s celebrated, she tends to be shunned, because he’s a serious male writer who writes about child abuse and drug addiction, and he’s a funny writer who writes about being single. At New York. And that’s the way this old chestnut goes.

In addition to her brother, survivors include her partner of 18 years, Todd Dimston; and a sister, Margery Bank.

Ms Bank had been working on another collection of stories in recent years, as well as teaching at Stony Brook University and the annual Southampton Writers’ Conference, not far from the log cabin where she lived and wrote in East Hampton. (She also had a home in Manhattan.)

“She had this weird, whispery way of getting people to write, just through her manner. It was extremely calming and very down to earth,” said author Matthew Klam, one of his Stony Brook colleagues. “She was more than happy to tell you how hard writing was for her, and somehow it made people let their guard down and come up with some new material in class. “

The writing didn’t always come easily, she noted. But there were moments of wonder and elation when words and ideas come together. “There’s this feeling that you have, that you can write a sentence and create something,” she told the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2005. “It made me feel better than ever. There was a real chance for me to be more than I had always been.


Comments are closed.