Melissa Bank hits the wonder spot with the story of Sophie Applebaum, who wanders through life with charm and a quirky, uncertain style. It isn’t hard to identify with plucky, vulnerable, sensitive Sophie. She gets up when she falls even while knowing she will stumble again. A cast of characters complex enough to be interesting populate her world; no pat good guys and bad guys here. Each member of her loving family has the weaknesses and failings that loving family members are likely to have. They care about her, but do they always say and do the right thing at the right time? Of course not. Whose family does? Her colleagues at a series of jobs are memorable, too. There’s the “boy wonder” editorial assistant who “was the kind of man who might’ve fished Zelda Fitzgerald out of the fountain at the Plaza, draped his cashmere coat around her shoulders, never asked for it back, and never told anyone the story.” There’s the “floating assistant” ridiculed by the staff who achieves success by, gasp, old-fashioned hard work. There’s the childhood friend who doesn’t quite transition into a friend for life and a college roommate who provides Sophie with a tantalizing glimpse of another world. And, of course, there is a long and varied parade of men who successively dance through Sophie’s days and nights. None of them turns out to be the dreamt-of Mr. Right but each fascinates enough to provide the what if of hope, which somehow springs proverbially eternal.
Bank’s language trips seamlessly along and her descriptions are witty and targeted. One character is described as speaking in the “nonest of non-sequiturs.” The Jewish sensibility rings true, as well. There’s an excruciating bat mitzvah, seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Sophie, that makes the reader positively squirm, as well as an awkward kosher kitchen scene of the sort that happens in real life all too often. The underlying Jewish cultural context, while not driving the story, anchors it well to its time and place.
Melissa Bank is often referred to as a founder of “chick-lit.” Her newest novel qualifies but, due to likeable characters, an effervescent writing style and a humorous approach, it’s one of the best examples of the genre in a long while.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.