I just finished The Wonder Spotby Melissa Bank. If you’re not familiar with Melissa Bank, she wrote the popular The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a 1999 collection of short stories about one woman’s attempts to find love and meaningful work. The stories are interconnected – they are all about the same person – but stands on its own as a self-contained entity. The Wonder Spot, though billed as a novel, is basically the same thing – a collection of stories about one woman’s search for love and meaningful work. Yes, her family members carry over from one chapter to the next, but each one deals with a different boyfriend and a different stage in the life of protagonist Sophie Applebaum.
While I was reading The Wonder Spot, I asked myself what was compelling about it, why I kept reading – because it far from a perfect book. I decided that the book is like slightly salted popcorn – there’s enough there to make you want more, but not enough to satisfy you.
Bank is a very good writer. Her protagonists are likable and funny, self-deprecating and flawed. Her style is spare – sometimes bordering on minimal. And while this minimalism is what kept me reading, I think, it also ultimately alienated me from the book. For this is really, at its heart, a short story collection rather than a novel. For example, in the chapter dealing with Sophie’s college years, the focus is exclusively on her relationship with her freshman roommate. That’s it – no mention of classes or other friends or anything else she did in those years. That’s fine for a short story, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t work for a novel.
Men came and went, chapter by chapter. Sometimes I wasn’t even aware that one relationship had ended before Bank had moved on to the next. One particular ex-boyfriend – a man who died shortly after he and Sophie broke up – seems to have played a large role in her future emotional life, but he is barely even mentioned. This is not to say that I didn’t know or understand Sophie by the end. I did. I just wanted some more consistency and a more thorough story.
I enjoyed The Wonder Spot while I read it, but looking back now, I didn’t take much away from it. It was a light read, which I needed after Trespass, but with so many books waiting to be read, I am not sure this one was worth the time.
If you like short stories, give this novel a try because you might enjoy it more than I did. If, however, you enjoy getting deeply into novels with consistent story arcs and no loose threads, this book may frustrate you.