Sex and the writer

CANDACE BUSHNELL, in dialogue with Ian Brown, today (Thursday, October 19), 5 pm, Brigantine Room and reading with Marcela Serrano.


CANDACE BUSHNELL, in dialogue with Ian Brown, today (Thursday, October 19), 5 pm, Brigantine Room and reading with Marcela Serrano and Ali Smith, tonight (Thursday, October 19), 8 pm, Premiere Dance Theatre.

Four Blondes, by Candace Bushnell (Atlantic Monthly/Publishers Group West), 192 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN


Coming from almost anyone else, the claim “I think this is a great book” in relation to one’s own novel would seem either mildly dubious or wildly self-aggrandizing.

But coming from Candace Bushnell — a woman of breathtaking candour who brutally strip-mined her own sorry love life to create the alternately nice and horrendous characters of Sex And The City — the statement seems unnecessary, particularly when she punctuates the assertion by stating, “Look, I’m 41 years old. I’ve been writing professionally for 22 years. It’s like, I do know what I’m doing here.”

For a newspaper-columnist-cum-rich-celebrity-novelist — whose wildly popular TV-adapted characters have sparked a heave in Manolo Blahnik’s bottom line — you’d think she’d be ballsier.

Bushnell is on the horn from decidedly downmarket Minnesota, discussing her second novel, now six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, Four Blondes. Actually, four more-or-less free-standing novellas about four glamour gals who are shaped by the men in their lives, mostly for the worse.

There’s the B-list actress who’s an A-list gold digger, the successful but vicious columnist and her cowering husband, the doped-up, paranoid supermodel and, finally, the unnamed American journalist who finds romantic happiness only after going abroad to figure out why it has eluded her.

Bushnell’s familiar movie-star-and-millionaire-studded Manhattan again plays backdrop, its tony bars and restaurants the excuse for fashionistas to strut and preen.

Unlike the fab females of Sex And The City, who are somehow sympathetic even at their most self-absorbed, the namesake Four Blondes presented here are, with one exception, pretty revolting characters, albeit characters armed with often drop-dead funny one-liners and absurd scenarios to negotiate.

Still, how to feel about the poor-me whinings of an idle, moneyed, coke-head beauty married to royalty? Like, boo hoo. Yet this particular story, titled Platinum, has been optioned by Hollywood. Bushnell reckons she’ll tuck into writing the screenplay later in the year.

“The thing is, I feel this is a really great book, and that’s what matters,” the author offers brightly. She sounds just like you’d expect — engaging, funny, no-nonsense.

“With Sex And The City, I was unsure, because it really wasn’t the book I wanted it to be. I was too restricted in writing it, owing to the fact that it was written as a series of newspaper articles (for the New York Observer).

“And although that book is fiction, it had to look like journalism, because the columns were running in a newspaper. Nobody wanted to blatantly say, “This is a fiction column.’

“This book is exactly as it should be. So I don’t really care what people say. I mean, I do. But I don’t.”

Bushnell admits the characters in Four Blondes inspire extreme reactions. “People have told me they had a really hard time with the second story because it reminded them of their own marriages.”

Oh dear.

“The issue is, what is your point of sensitivity?” she continues. “I don’t think my role as a writer is to churn out the trash that seems to be everywhere these days.”

She slips into a little-girl voice. “”Let’s make sure we have really likeable characters who inspire lots of sympathy.’ Frankly, that never even crossed my mind. And these are types of women you actually see. I made the really hypocritical journalist character, Winnie, nicer than some real women like her I know.”

So why keep returning to the well of clubby, trendy NYC? Why not write outside her immediate frame of reference?

“Why should I?” she howls. “My work isn’t about New York per se, it’s about life — society — in a large urban centre.

“There are so many stories I’d still love to tell. For instance, I’ve met a lot of women in their 50s who were married for 20 years and just got divorced, and they say things to me like, “I’m having the best time of my life.’

“Younger women I meet always want to get married, while older women who have been married feel like the whole concept of marriage is a myth they were fed that just wasn’t true.”CANDACE BUSHNELL, in dialogue with Ian Brown, today (Thursday, October 19), 5 pm, Brigantine Room and reading with Marcela Serrano and Ali Smith, tonight (Thursday, October 19), 8 pm, Premiere Dance Theatre.

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