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The Wonder Spot


The Wonder Spot

THE WONDER SPOT is a collection of short stories from the point of
view of Sophie Applebaum, a funny, slightly sardonic,
Jewish-in-name-only underachiever from Surrey, Pennsylvania.
Spanning 25 years of her adolescence and adulthood, the stories
also reveal the characters of her family: her devout and serious
younger brother Robert; her older brother Jack and his serial
girlfriends; her sensible, intelligent, fair-minded father; and her
mysterious mother.

I say "short" stories but they are not, really. The shortest two
are thirty pages and the longest is seventy, time enough to become
engaged or disgusted with, enchanted or repelled by the characters
--- sometimes even the same ones. An example is the story titled
"Dena Blumenthal + Bobby Orr Forever." Befriended at an awkward
stage by Dena Blumenthal, Sophie presents both the generous and
not-so-generous sides of Dena, so we end up as bemused as Sophie is
when she realizes she's had enough. The Dena story ends up with
Sophie in a restaurant with Matthew, a man she had thought was
promising until he confesses that he hasn't called her because Dena
asked him not to. Through clever dialogue and adroit
juxtapositions, Bank conveys layers of meaning, as in this

When the waiter comes to the table and asks if we want another
drink, I say, "That's it for me."

Matthew says, "Just the check, please."

I say, "Let's split it," but Matthew shakes his head, and I don't
argue; it is just a drink.

He puts some bills on a little tray.

The waiter says, "Do you want change?"

He doesn't.

Because Bank writes so winningly about men, some may be tempted to
cast her in the Chick Lit bin, but this collection contains a
balance of stories about Sophie's relationships --- with female
friends and enemies, with her brothers and parents, with her
career. As in life, friends come and go, but Sophie is stuck with
her family members, who grow and change along with her. This lends
the story collection an arc that makes it feel more like a novel.
Jack the Lothario finally meets his match, and knuckles down to
fitting into her large and powerful family. Robert becomes a doctor
and marries an orthodox Jewish woman whom Sophie tolerates ---
barely --- and vice-versa. And after their father's death, Sophie
learns a few things about her supposedly proper, strait-laced

Sophie's career, or lack thereof, forms a running subtext to many
of the stories. Too late she realizes that while she was learning
to smoke cigarettes in the bathroom, others were studying away. Her
father reads her a list of colleges he thinks she can get into.
"Not Brown but Bowling Green; not Wesleyan but Ohio Wesleyan, not
Williams or Smith, but William Smith. Until that moment, it hadn't
occurred to me that my grades and test scores over the years were
anything more than individual humiliations; I hadn't realized that
one day all of them would add up and count against me." And so she
must learn to type after she graduates from college --- slowly,
painfully, staying with her grandmother who hounds her about
getting married.

She finally lands a job as an editorial assistant and moves around
to various publishing-related jobs in Manhattan, worrying all the
while that she's not doing it right, that something is missing. "I
looked around me and thought, Few are called. Almost nobody
was. Robert had been called to be a doctor, Francine Lawlor an
editor. Adam had always known he wanted to be a playwright. But
they were the exceptions. I was like everyone else; I fell into a
job, and I worked at it. It didn't seem wrong to want more, but it
was wrong to expect it to be delivered."

Throughout the collection, Bank employs a light, understated touch
to keep you laughing and soften you up for the zinger. "I felt I
needed to pretend to be a better person than I was so he'd keep
loving me. This was hard because it made me hate him." The linked
stories format suits her. Each one unfolds into a completely
realized, nuanced view of one phase in Sophie's life. I paused for
a night or a few hours after each story, to let them sink in whole.
But hooked on Sophie's wry and funny observations on the stuff of
life, I was always eager to come back for more.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 24, 2011

The Wonder Spot
by Melissa Bank

  • Publication Date: May 31, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670034118
  • ISBN-13: 9780670034116