Authors: Melissa Bank

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, 1999

Biography

Melissa Bank was born in a suburb of Philadelphia in 1961. Her father was a neurologist, and her mother taught writing to children. Bank was not a very good student in public school, she has said, for she felt learning was an extension of obedience to authority, adding that she has always had an authority problem. She studied art at Hobart College in upstate New York but did not do well in the subject, changing her major to American studies before graduating in 1982. She then moved to New York City and worked for two years as an editorial assistant in a publishing house. She entered graduate school at Cornell University in 1985 and earned her M.F.A. degree, after which she taught English at Cornell for three years.{$I[A]Bank, Melissa}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Bank, Melissa}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Bank, Melissa}{$I[tim]1961;Bank, Melissa}

After moving back to New York City in 1989, she worked as a copywriter at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency for nine years. During this period she took additional classes in creative writing at Columbia University, spending all her free time writing short stories, some of which were published in small-circulation journals. She published her first short story, “Lucky You,” in 1989 in The North American Review. She won the Nelson Algren award in 1993 for her story “My Old Man.”

Bank’s career received a tremendous boost when film director Francis Ford Coppola asked her to write a story for his Zoetrope: All Story magazine in response to Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s 1996 how-to guide for getting a man, The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Afterward, Bank forwarded the story and several others she had written to an agent, who sent them out to ten publishers. Nine of the ten wanted to publish the collection, and a bidding war ensued, which was won by Viking Press. Bank received a $275,000 advance for the book, an unusually large amount for a first book and a collection of short stories at that.

The collection was highly successful, becoming one of the favorite take-to-the-beach summer books of 1999 and remaining on The New York Times best-seller list for two months. Bank made a number of appearances across the United States on her reading tour, drawing standing-room-only audiences. The book was the biggest publishing story of 1999, reviewed by every major newspaper in the country. She became an immediate celebrity, appearing on television shows and in People magazine.

Bank’s success was partly a result of tagging on to the popularity of Helen Fielding’s single-girl best-seller Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) and an American television series about a single woman looking for love, Ally McBeal. Because of its title, some booksellers initially stocked The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing in the fishing and hunting section of their stores. Actually, the title story recalls old-fashioned women’s magazine pieces about the age-old problem of finding a man willing to make a commitment. Bank made this cliché-ridden topic more interesting in her story by the use of comic one-liners and by the device of imagining the authors of a popular how-to book titled How to Meet and Marry Mr. Right giving her protagonist, Jane Rosenal, advice every time she thinks about following her own intuition in a relationship.

Bank has commented in personal appearances that there is a lot of Jane Rosenal in her, joking that she is going to therapy to resolve these issues. When interviewers started finding connections between the fictional Jane Rosenal and Bank–both had a neurologist father who died of leukemia in his late fifties, and both had a relationship with an older man who was alcoholic–Bank said she felt her personal life was being invaded.

The story reads much like a television sitcom in which Jane, against her better judgment, follows such words of advice as “don’t say ‘I love you’ first” and “keep him guessing.” When the man in her life gets tired of playing the game and no longer calls her, she decides simply to be herself. She then gets the man of her dreams.

Bank does not pretend to be a high-powered literary writer. She says that after teaching at Cornell for three years, she did not really like the ethic of writing stories that were difficult to understand. She says she wants everyone to understand exactly what she means. Although Bank says she knows that a short story almost always has an obligation to be perfect, she does not write that way; she says she writes the way a novelist does: a bit sloppy. Francis Ford Coppola’s film studio commissioned Bank, who settled in New York, to write a screenplay based on the title story of her book.

BibliographyCaldwell, Gail. “Bright Girl, Big City.” The Boston Globe. May 30, 1999, p. D1. Says The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing is the American book industry’s answer to Bridget Jones’s Diary, with the hope that a well-timed trend may constitute “a Zeitgeist, or at least a barrelful of profits.” Argues that the experiences in the book are predictable and the over-the-top one-liners “stick out like drugstore jewelry on a little girl.”Carey, Lynn. “Hunting and Fishing Frenzy.” The Buffalo News, August 21, 1999, p. 7C. In this interview article, Bank says the father in the stories is mostly autobiographical, but she refuses to discuss the origins of the story about breast cancer. Bank argues against the frequent comparison of her book to British author Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary.Chang, Yahlin. “A Hot Young Writer You Can Bank On.” Newsweek, May 31, 1999, 76. A brief account of the success of Bank’s book, with critical comments on its structure and style.Chonin, Neva. “A Guide Women Can Identify With.” The San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 1999, p. E1. An interview story that discusses the buzz that developed around Bank’s Zoetrope story months before it was printed. Bank says she is “flattered but flummoxed” by her sudden popularity; says her goal was just to get published so she could get a decent university teaching job but that she now both loves and hates her new celebrity status.Iovine, Julie V. “At Home with Melissa Bank.” The New York Times, July 22, 1999, p. F1. This interview story provides biographical notes, discusses the media attention Bank has received, and quotes Bank on her reaction to being in the literary limelight after years of writing alone.Klinghoffer, David. “Female Trouble.” National Review 51 (July 12, 1999): 55. Puts Bank’s collection in the context of the social problems faced by single women in their thirties in the United States, particularly the problem of finding a husband. Reports on a panel discussion featuring Bank and Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and comments on the humor in both of their books.Lanham, Fritz. “Love, Happiness Are Trophies Melissa Bank’s Heroine Seeks.” Houston Chronicle, August 1, 1999, p. 18. An interview story with biographical background. Bank discusses her relationship to Jane Rosenthal, the heroine of her stories, as well as Rosenthal’s development throughout the stories.Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. “She Lives to Tell About Growing Up.” The New York Times, June 17, 1999, p. E9. In this review, Lehmann-Haupt calls The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing a charming, funny collection of seven linked fictions. Argues that all the humor of the stories turns on Jane’s “wonderfully clear sense of the trickiness of language.”“Melissa Bank.” People 52 (December 31, 1999): 124. A brief profile of Bank, detailing her reaction to the success of her book and quoting Francis Ford Coppola’s appreciation of the title story as funnier than he could have imagined, as well as being deeper and more moving.Weaver, Courtney. “Jane’s Addiction.” The New York Times, May 30, 1999, p. 23. Relates the stories to themes and types from women’s magazines. Argues there is no real character development in the stories and no unified structure; says it feels like an unfinished novel, divided up into stories.
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