Now, this has to be one of my very favourite books, if not my favourite book of all time (a big claim, I know, but it’s one that has sprung from my mouth on more than one occasion, and even onto Twitter I believe).
I’m guessing a lot of people see this book and think ‘chick lit’ – which is no bad thing, and that is an entirely separate conversation. Personally, I love chick lit if that’s what we’re calling it.
But Melissa Bank has something else. The Wonder Spot is, as Zadie Smith so beautifully puts it on the cover, “a stroll through twenty years of a woman’s life.” Sophie Applebaum (our heroine) is both sure of herself and not, pulled this way and that by others around her – her room-mate Venice, the sophisticated blonde who Sophie immediately looks up to, is a prime example of somebody whom Sophie is swayed by, and the reader at once recognises that ‘fresh to college’ feel when the prettiest girl in the room somehow chooses to be friends with you. Bank captures this perfectly, and moves on to show how Sophie deals with Honey Zipkin, the intimidating editor at the Manhattan publishing house where Sophie starts work (“she was very pretty, but she had a bigger head than you’d expect on her little frame, plus long blonde hair”). What is interesting though is how the veneers of these role models gradually slip away, as so often occurs in life – and similarly, the men in Sophie’s life disappoint her, one after the other.
I am making this sound like a melancholy read, and it isn’t at all. The men are disappointing to Sophie, but instead of being depressing this in fact is glorious, because what it does is make Sophie more and more sure of herself (even if she cannot see it, it is apparent in her words). In an exchange where a man named Matthew apologises for causing problems between Sophie and her friend Dena, Sophie tells him: “Don’t [feel responsible].” and Bank adds, beautifully – After all, he barely did anything.” In just a few words she manages to convey the ego of Matthew and the ease at which Sophie dismisses it.
Another favourite moment of mine is when Sophie leaves the man who never called her back waiting on a street corner. She says: “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to fall under his spell again, but just to be on the safe side I kept my eyes on his nose.” Then follows a fantastic exchange:
‘”Well,’ I said, ‘I have to go.’
He said, ‘Can I call you?’
I waited a long time before answering, though not, of course, as long as he’d made me wait.I let him stand there with the question in the air while I took a good long look at him, let him stand there while I stepped into the street and raised my arm for a cab. At exactly that moment, as though dispatched by some god that I didn’t really believe in any more -the god of drama or god of perfect things – or maybe by my own fairy god, a cab came. I got in, and closed the door.”
If that doesn’t make you want to read the book, well. It’s wonderful. Another lovely aspect is Sophie’s up and down relationships with her brothers and her family – true to life and endearing, dealing with what happens when you all grow up and introduce partners to the mix. The novel is broken up into what one could almost call short stories, but the characters stay the same – almost like a real person’s life! People come in and out of Sophie’s sphere, and we can tell who are the ‘big loves’ (Sex and the City reference – the greatest loves) and we can tell who are the fleeting ones. It is at times very funny, wickedly so, and you come away wishing that Sophie was your best friend, or simply that you could applaud her. At the same time though it is in no way a frivolous book; it deals with real life, the sadness of it, the struggle for a career – Bank manages to capture it all perfectly in a novel that you’ll want to read again and again.