I read Melissa Banks’s story collection, A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, several years ago. The other day I noticed Jenny Turner’s review of the book at the London Review of Books. She doesn’t really like the book: “less ironic than their epigraphs might suggest . . . a curiously sheltered and olde-worlde quality, charming in a way, but also odd.” The criticism amounts to a decision that people like Banks’s don’t exist in the world, or at least they shouldn’t. Turner is usually pretty astute, so I was surprised to find her missing the point in such a way.
For example, she takes note of two anecdotes related by the narrator of one of the stories, a teenage girl. At one point, she excuses herself from a family get-together to go to her room, saying, “Well, I’ve got to go now and shoot heroin.” She doesn’t actually do drugs. Turner is disappointed. She wanted to find out something nasty about the protagonist, something that would add some “oomph” to the story. Later, she goes to a party with a friend and uses a clever-for-her-age stratagem to turn down drugs there, pretending they’ve been, at so young an age, already in rehab. Turner’s disappointed here too, and for the same reasons.
Turner continues, disapproving of Banks’s writing, morally, “such jokes are based on an absolute confidence that such things can’t happen to the teller and her audience, or anyone like them.”
Well, no. The point of the first anecdote is that the narrator suspects that as far as the adults are concerned, the character’s minor rebellion—refusing to stay and visit with the grown-ups—is nearly as close to shooting heroin as makes almost no difference. They think it’s likely enough she’s turning bad, like every other teenager except a few. The only proof they’d accept that she isn’t would be her willingness to sit and chat with aunts for hours and hours. They aren’t prepared to believe in a version of “bad” that comes well short of hard drug use. The point of the second is that the girl and her friend do know perfectly well what might (in Turner’s words) “happen” at that party. Having ended up there—probably with the encouragement of the same parents who were disapproving when the girl decided to go alone to her room, rather than stay and sit with other people—they decided to act and try to preserve themselves from this fate at least a little bit. The point is about the lack of support, in this particular world, for this particular girl’s being her own person without being totally fallen into corruption. To suggest that the narrator is unaware that it’s dangerous for her to be at this party, if she wants to avoid drugs, is bizarre. To suggest that the narrator is somehow unfair to those who weren’t as strong or as scrupulous as herself, that it was in some actually wrong to be tempted and not to fall, is mean.
It makes it worse that Turner uses her perplexity with the characters’ world and their worldview as a reason to mark down the book. The lesson is clear.
 As John Holbo says, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.