- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

NEW YORK

Candace Bushnell has traded in her cosmos for Cristal and swapped the bedroom for the boardroom.

In her new novel, the “Sex and the City” author presents the swanky, jet-setting lives of three supersuccessful fortysomething New York women at the white-hot peak of their careers.

There’s fashion designer Victory Ford, who heads her own global conglomerate. There’s movie executive Wendy Healy, clawing her way to the top of a Miramax-like corporation. And finally, magazine editor Nico O’Neilly, who is close to becoming the first female CEO of her multinational parent.

Mr. Big? Not here. These women are Ms. Bigs.

“Women with money and women in power are two uncomfortable ideas in our society,” Miss Bushnell says during an interview at what seems a very “Sex and the City” location: Poolside atop the roof deck of Soho House, a private club and hotel in the ultrachic Meatpacking District (where Samantha Jones, “Sex and the City’s” most amorous character, had an apartment).

“We’re comfortable with movie stars having money. We’re comfortable with a woman marrying a rich guy and having money. We’re not so comfortable with a woman independently working in business and making a lot of money,” she says.

Miss Bushnell, 46, began crafting “Lipstick Jungle” after watching clumps of professional women share intimacies and lunch at the same swanky Manhattan restaurants that were once the exclusive bastions of pinstriped men.

“These are women who’ve been working for 20 years, and now they’re becoming really successful in their 40s. They have a different kind of outlook on life, a different spirit,” Miss Bushnell says. “These aren’t women who are competing with each other. They’re women who are part of a club, and certainly a club that welcomes new members. It’s something I’ve noticed about New York for a long time but didn’t really pinpoint until now.”

Her latest characters are certainly not the man-obsessed foursome we fell in love with in the pages of “Sex and the City,” which spawned the groundbreaking HBO sitcom of the same name. They’re all grown up, hungry for success — and don’t need any man. Hear them roar.

Of course, this being Miss Bushnell, there’s still plenty of glitz. Her characters wear Jimmy Choo slingbacks and Baume & Mercier diamond watches; they use black American Express cards and go cigarette boating in the Bahamas.

Two of the trio are married with children, although one has a steamy affair with an underwear model and the other’s union is lackluster. The sole single character is being wooed — poorly, we might add — by a Ron Perelman-like billionaire.

Count Vogue contributing editor Joan Juliet Buck among the admirers of Miss Bushnell’s book. “She’s really clever and subversive,” Miss Buck says. “It’s very difficult to describe glittery people, and she does it very well.”

Miss Bushnell uses her characters to plumb familiar ground — female bonding and sex, of course — but also some new territory: How do women act at the top? Do women have to sacrifice their careers for home life? Should they?

“I think what I’m really trying to say is people should do what works best for them and shouldn’t be constrained by gender,” Miss Bushnell says. “If there are women who want to go out and work and be the breadwinner, that’s great.”

Women don’t need men to provide “self-esteem, self-worth, a sense of purpose,” Miss Bushnell adds. “If I were a man, and a woman was looking at me for those things, it’s too much pressure. No wonder men freak out. It’s too much pressure.”

Wait a minute. What was that? Did we detect a change from Miss Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” days? Are men now to be considered a little less evil and quixotic?

“To me, now being in my 40s and a bit more successful, it makes you feel a little bit more generous towards other people,” Miss Bushnell responds coyly. “You don’t have to male-bash.”

Yes, gentlemen, you can stop cowering from behind the sofa.

Miss Bushnell grew up in a middle-class Connecticut family, arriving in New York in 1978 as a waitress, aspiring actress and freelancer. Despite her interest in glitz, she isn’t obsessed with wealth. She drives a PT Cruiser, not the Mercedes S600 sedan driven by one of her characters.

“There’s a real practical New England side to me. I hate the idea of buying something that’s really expensive and then it loses 50 percent of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot,” Miss Bushnell says.

While she has always enjoyed giving her readers a thrill out of putting their noses up against the window of elite New York lives, her relationship with the world of wealth is more complex.

“That perspective comes from not having any money for so long,” she says. “One year I made $10,000, and I think I was 33. That was just horrifying — to be 33 and people are looking at you like you’re such a loser.”

By the mid-90s, Miss Bushnell started writing her New York Observer column called “Sex and the City,” drawing on her considerable knowledge as a young woman in the single scene. The columns became a book, and the book became a TV phenomenon. Miss Bushnell was called everything from the Dorothy Parker for the millennium to a “martini-wielding Jane Austen.”

Miss Bushnell penned two other best-selling books — “Four Blondes” and “Trading Up” — and married New York City Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard on July 4, 2002 after a seven-week romance. Once a fixture on the Big Apple social scene, Miss Bushnell doesn’t party much these days, finding the night life a little too corporate.

While “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw was her alter ego years ago, Miss Bushnell’s latest book offers a clue of the author today — a woman less interested in the gender wars and more concerned with women taking their place in the world.

“What my friends have said to me is that this book is really the most me,” she says.

And what about “Lipstick Jungle’s” go-for-it, seize-the-day attitude?

“I am very much like that,” Miss Bushnell says. “Of course, I say I’m like that, but believe me, I’ll just as soon sit at home and watch ‘Dr. Phil.’”


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