Melissa Bank, author whose ‘Girls’ Guide’ was a phenomenon, dies at 61 – The New York Times | Gmx Pharm

Melissa Bank, a witty, scathing writer whose first book, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, became a global publishing phenomenon in 1999, died Tuesday at her home in East Hampton, NY. She was 61 years old.

Her sister Margery Bank said the cause was lung cancer.

Ms. Bank’s success didn’t come overnight. She spent 12 years writing the book, a collection of stories, partly because she was temporarily unable to write due to a bicycle accident. A job as a copywriter for a major advertising agency also kept her busy.

But after the cover story was published in 1998 in Zoetrope: All Story, a literary magazine founded by director Francis Ford Coppola, Ms. Bank suddenly became the most vibrant unpublished author in America. She soon had an agent, and a bidding war began, which Viking Press won against eight other publishers by paying an advance of $275,000 (equivalent to about $475,000 today) — a sum rare and rare for a novelist is practically unheard of for a first collection of short stories.

The build-up was justified: The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing made the New York Times bestseller list almost immediately, where it stayed for months. Mr. Coppola chose it for a film. It has been translated into dozens of languages ​​and sold more than 1.5 million copies.

The seven interrelated stories in The Girls’ Guide follow a girl named Jane Rosenal and her coming of age over two decades, from age 14 to mid-30s, as she navigates sex, death, money and friends. Jane is sharp, independent and scathingly funny – not unlike Ms. Bank herself.

In one story, after Jane tells her older lover, an editor, that she has lost her job, he proposes that she work for him.

“I could sue you for that,” she says.

“What?”

“Sexual Harassment at Work.”

Despite the fact that critics compared her spare, sophisticated language to that of a variety of male writers, including Hemingway and Salinger – the Los Angeles Times called it “like John Cheever, only funnier” – her book was quickly accepted into the growing herd of writers Female-centric fiction derisively dubbed “Chick Lit.”

Given the moment, in the late 1990s, perhaps it was inevitable. “Ally McBeal” was a hit for Fox. Sex and the City premiered on HBO in 1998, the same year Helen Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’ Diary was published.

Reviewers and fans eagerly linked Ms. Bank’s book to Ms. Fielding’s; The two even appeared together at a panel at Y 92nd Street in Manhattan called “What Single Women Want.”

However, discerning critics saw more differences than similarities, particularly in Ms. Bank’s ability to convey generosity and sympathy.

“Fielding’s novel was a one-joke satirical stunt,” wrote Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker in 1999.

Ms. Bank followed up The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing with a similarly linked series of stories, The Wonder Spot, in 2005. It didn’t sell nearly as well as The Girls’ Guide, but many critics considered it a much better book.

“‘The Wonder Spot’ is my perfect book,” Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian in 2020. “The tone is perfect, the stories are perfect, the characters are perfect, and every word chosen so seemingly casually is perfect.”

Melissa Susan Bank was born on October 11, 1960 in Boston and grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her father, Arnold Bank, was a neurologist and her mother, Joan (Levine) Bank, was a teacher.

Along with her sister, she is survived by her brother Andrew Bank and longtime partner Todd Dimston.

Ms. Bank attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, graduating in 1982 with a degree in American Studies. She received an MFA from Cornell in 1987.

Shortly after leaving Cornell, she began writing what became The Girls’ Guide. She wrote in the evenings and flipped city promotions at work to save her time and creative energy. She showed early promise and won the 1993 Nelson Algren Literary Award short story competition.

However, her work was slowed when in 1994 a car hit her bike, throwing her forward. She landed on her head with enough force to snap her helmet in half. The aftermath of a concussion left her struggling to find words, both spoken and written, for about two years.

She managed to get a few stories published and soon caught the attention of Adrienne Brodeur, the editor of Zoetrope. Mr. Coppola had asked Ms. Brodeur to commission a story highlighting the success of Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capture the Heart of Mr. Right, a popular self-help book published in was played in 1995.

The resulting story of Ms. Bank, in which her character follows Jane and then discards a thinly veiled version of The Rules, raised the profile of both young Zoetrope and author. Editors and agents began calling, and she struggled to put together a manuscript.

“All I remember is that I sat down to read Melissa’s manuscript the same way I sat down to read all of my contributions,” said Carole DeSanti, the editor who acquired the book for Viking, in a phone interview . “And I remember up to that moment where I was sitting. The chair I was sitting in back in my apartment and the fact that I didn’t get up because I just felt like I was in the presence of a voice doing something so different and so captivating and doing it so carefully .”

Two of the stories from the book were adapted into the 2007 film Suburban Girl, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin.

Though explicitly fictional, Ms. Bank admitted that The Girls’ Guide drew on aspects of her own life: Like Jane, she was raised in a presumptuously perfect family, and both of her fathers died young of leukemia. Such was the book’s fame that gossip columnists made a quick attempt to hunt down the real people behind their characters.

Following the success of The Girls’ Guide, Ms. Bank began teaching at the Southampton Writers Conference on Long Island and later in the MFA program at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus.

She continued writing after she published The Wonder Spot. She was contracted to produce another book for Viking, which she worked on until shortly before her death.

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