By Candace Bushnell
Atlantic Monthly Press
245 pages, $24
Candace Bushnell is best known as the author of "Sex and the City" and a column in the New York Observer. She is the basis for the Carrie Bradshaw character portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in the HBO series of the same name.
Like the "4 Blondes" in these short stories, the four women on "Sex and the City" obsess about sex. But Bushnell's new book may demonstrate how much Bushnell owes Darren Star, the creator of the TV series. By making an Emmy nominated series out of a beach read, he's performed the literary equivalent of the old silk purse/sow's ear trick, creating a quartet of flawed, interesting characters.
"4 Blondes" is comprised of four short stories about four different women. The first, "Nice 'n Easy," details ex-model turned celebrity Janey's search for the perfect summer home in the Hamptons, which she acquires by sleeping with the owners of such homes. "Highlights (for Adults)" tells the story of married journalists Winnie and James, which begins with a thumbnail sketch of the couple:
Here are a few of the things they agree on. They hate anyone who isn't like them. They hate anyone who is wealthy and successful and gets press (especially Donald Trump). They hate trendy people and things (although James did just buy a pair of Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses). They hate TV; big-budget movies; all commercial, poorly written books on The New York Times best seller lists (and the people who read them); fast food restaurants; guns; neo-Nazi youth groups; the religious right wing anti-abortion groups; fashion models (fashion editors); fat on red meat; small, yappy dogs and the people who own them.
"Platinum" is the diary of Princess Cecelia, who married into royalty and is now chronicling her descent into depression with her friend Dianna, who allegedly killed her husband and now thinks he is God. The final chapter, "Single Process" details a nameless writer's research on sex in the United Kingdom.
The book jacket compares it to "Bonfire of the Vanities," I was thinking more along the lines of "Dim Bulbs, Big City."
All four blonds are quite miserable, which makes for a depressing read. Three of them are not particularly bright, and the fourth is a bit of a shrew. They all hang with the same cocktail party/Hamptons/cocaine crowd and as a result, supporting characters are woven through the stories.
Sister envy is a recurrent theme. The men are either vicious or pitiful, all using women as objects, a notion these women not only accept, but often encourage. These are not women you'd want to befriend unless you're Susan on "Survivor." They are without inhibitions or consciences, and there isn't a likable woman in the bunch. (In what is perhaps a bit of self-parody, every character who has no skills becomes a writer.)
A classic moment in the Democratic convention coverage occurred when NBC's Andrea Mitchell, being prodded by Tom Brokaw, asked actress Sarah Jessica Parker what vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman might think of her risque HBO series "Sex and the City." Parker responded that it was a fair question and hopefully he'd be pleased that all four of the women on the show are self-sufficient.
If only that could be said about the four blonds, they might have been more interesting. Bushnell is a good writer, but her characters are totally devoid of any substance. As a result, blonds don't have more fun, and neither do their readers.
Or to paraphrase Socrates: If "the unexamined life is not worth living" is it really worth reading about? If you think Dolce & Gabanna are a law firm and Manolo Blahnik is a third-world dictator, get some Joyce Carol Oates.
If you're looking for strong, substantive women like Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, better stick to TV.