The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Melissa Bank writes wonderful secondary characters. Unfortunately, her narrator here, Sophie Applebaum, is about as engaging as watching a traffic signal all day long. The book is divided into vignettes that take us through twenty-five years of Sophie's life, in hit-and-miss fashion, from age twelve to pushing forty. It starts out well enough, with Sophie being obliged to attend her ballerina cousin's bat mitzvah. Young Sophie has a sharp sense of humor, and the descriptions of her family are well observed and entertaining. The trouble is, that's pretty much it for the humor, though goodness knows she keeps trying for the funny line.
Sophie is knee deep in the sort of ironic, hipper-than-thou, clever turns of phrase that are perhaps meant to be witty, but I wondered what it was that made her think she was somehow inherently better than everyone around her, with the possible exception of the very pretty and the very skinny. Nobody in her family, her work environment, or her dating life is spared. Everyone is found lacking in some way or other, and so she needn't connect with anyone, at least not to any degree of depth. Sophie is hurt and angry at her maternal grandmother for finding fault with everyone and everything, but the only thing to choose between the two of them is that her grandmother does it with a sharp tongue, while Sophie uses faux clever quips and unkind, but amusingly phrased, observations.
In the course of the book, Sophie drifts from job to job, never investing herself in any of them, and often bolting as soon as any real demands are placed upon her. At times, she turns down work she needs simply because it isn't hip enough for her, never mind that she's camping out with one or the other of her brothers or living at home again with her mother, and even with her other grandmother. Such circumstances would make most people feel humbled, but not Sophie. She never seems to get it that all the targets of her uncharitable judgements are living more successfully than she is.
The holy grail of Sophie's life is to find "The One", the man who will make everything all right by transforming her life and setting her on the road to Happy Ever After, martini glass in hand. She goes through a whole laundry list of boyfriends, and follows the same pattern with each one: she's attracted, then begins almost immediately envisioning her happy life with the boyfriend du jour, but then there is a challenge or a speed bump, or he just doesn't keep exciting her quite so much, and she starts distancing herself until it's over. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. It doesn't seem to me that Sophie even really sees these men for who they are, but only as potential vehicles for her vague hopes and dreams of rescue and magical transformation.
She just annoyed me, with her refusal to take responsibility for herself, to ever learn from her life or her mistakes, or to show much heart at all, ever. For all her ability to home in on people's foibles and quirks--and in so doing, reducing people to their unflattering details--Sophie shows almost no genuine heart at all through the entire book. People, to her, seem to exist only as fodder for her shallow internal monologue, to which she subjects the reader for more than three hundred pages.
I expect that there are probably a great many young women like Sophie; self-absorbed, directionless, unremarkable girls waiting against all logic for their pumpkins to turn into chariots. The thing is, that kind of girl is just not enough to build a novel around. If you'd still like to read "The Wonder Spot", there's a free copy in my trash can; offer good until collection day.
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