Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Fishing for a Hook

By Shelly Ridenour

MAY 8, 2000:  Timing is everything, at least in the publishing world. When Melissa Bank's well-reviewed (and much-hyped) collection of short stories, "The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing," came out last summer, magazines predictably lumped it together with novels like Suzanne Finnamore's "Otherwise Engaged" and Kate Christensen's "In the Drink" -- books about say-anything single women -- as the "American 'Bridget Jones.'"

Thing is, Bank's book is, in reality, nothing like any of the above. Witty, thoughtful, clear-headed and satisfying, the story thread that takes us through the life of Jane Rosenal is no cartoon; or, as Bank herself puts it, "My book is about as close to 'Bridget Jones' as I am to Brigitte Bardot."

Funny then, that a publicist would ring me up recently, pitching Elissa Schappell's "Use Me" -- a thoroughly engaging book in its own right, with a similar story construction: story of smart, urbane, white woman's life told through snapshot vignettes -- as a "darker, edgier 'Girl's Guide.'"

"It's funny to me, yeah," Bank sighs. "When I was in advertising -- which I wasn't good at, so it's funny I'm saying this -- the idea was to focus on what was unique about a product, not what it was like."

Good at it or not, for a decade the advertising industry provided Bank with a day job that allowed her to write fiction at night. In a real Cinderella story, it was only when she submitted her work to Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope fiction magazine that her desired career really took off. "They commissioned me to write what became the title story [of 'The Girl's Guide']," she recalls. "Zoetrope is unique in that way, in that Francis gets a story idea, and then the editor finds someone to write it."

The title story is also the last in the book, coming after keyhole looks at the protagonist's forays into love, friendship and career. We first meet Jane as a 14-year-old; mouthy without being obnoxious, she offers up quick-wit lines like "I'd concluded that breasts were to sex what pillows were to sleep. 'Guys might think they want a pillow, but they'll sleep just as well without one.'" By the time I reached the final story, a hilarious tale of living by -- and ruining your life with -- "The Rules," I didn't want Jane to go away.

Neither did Bank, who says "I don't think I'll ever be done with Jane." Good thing -- Coppola is looking for a director for Bank's recently completed "Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing" screenplay.

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