Another engaging, ruefully funny saga of a young woman growing up without ever quite fitting in, from the author of The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999).
Sophie Applebaum introduces herself to us en route from her home in suburban Philadelphia to a cousin’s bat mitzvah. At 12, she's already witty, mildly insecure and determined in her aimless way not to do anything she doesn’t want to. These character traits will be familiar to Bank’s previous readers, and the author again favors the interlinked-stories format as she drops in on Sophie at various life-defining moments. “Boss of the World” sketches out the family dynamic: quiet, much-loved father; anxious, hectoring mother; unreliable but charming big brother Jack; follow-the-rules little brother Robert, and Sophie in the middle, vaguely discomfited by them all. In subsequent stories/chapters, she drifts through a mediocre college, makes something of an effort to land a job in publishing (actually learning to type), negotiates complex friendships with women usually more assured than she, and meets any number of Mr. Wrongs, who range from self-absorbed to philandering to nice-enough-but-not-The-One. (That constitutes progress for Sophie.) Robert marries aggressively orthodox Naomi; Jack flits from woman to woman before settling down with a well-connected real estate agent—“he would work to be part of Mindy's family as he’d never worked to be part of our family,” his sister comments sardonically. After her father’s death, Sophie grows more tender toward her mother, acknowledging their shared vulnerability. She even learns to love her maternal grandmother, once critical and difficult but considerably softened by a stroke and an impending date with the Grim Reaper. Though the Applebaums all get off plenty of good wisecracks, the overall tone here is faintly melancholy. The last snapshot is of a 40ish Sophie, who has a new job and a decade-younger boyfriend, but isn't exactly dancing in the aisles.
Very appealing, but more mature insights don’t entirely compensate for the fact that both heroine and storyline greatly resemble their predecessors in Bank’s bestselling debut.