"No," George Peppard answers. "Amusingly and superficially talented, yes, but deeply and importantly, no."
Their conversation from the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany's refers to a burlesque queen, but the couple could just as easily be talking about Candace Bushnell.
The author, who used Tiffany's as a starting point for her 1996 book Sex and the City, clearly fancies herself an heir to Truman Capote, one appointed to skewer metropolitan mores and dish deep and important insights on human nature. Too bad her latest crack at fiction, Trading Up, reveals her as more of a cheerless Jackie Collins knock-off, but with less panache for writing entertaining prose. Judging from the book's harshness, you might think the author had one of her signature Manolos stuck up her ass.
Bushnell, a former journalist and Vogue contributor, was anointed New York royalty mainly because Sex and the City, a clever but disposable little collection of essays, was transformed into one of the wittiest comedies on television. That success granted the author book deals for two abysmal follow-ups that never should have seen the light of day.
Trading Up is a sequel of sorts to her 4 Blondes, following one of the characters through even more misadventures in Bimbo Land. Lingerie model Janey Wilcox, flashing the bling from a recent Victoria's Secret gig, navigates the backstabbing world of Hamptons bluebloods in search of a sugar daddy to make her life matter. Of the 4 Blondes only Janey deserved more ink, but her gold-digging in this book wears thin just a few pages in.
"Janey's been compared to Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair, and Moll Flanders," Bushnell tells me in a telephone interview. "She's been called Scarlett O'Hara without the plantation."
From my desk near Little Five Points, I swear I can hear Margaret Mitchell over in Oakland Cemetery spinning in her grave.
Bushnell says bad girls are the characters we tend to remember, and she casually drops the names Madam Bovary, Anna Karenina and even Alexis Carrington from "Dynasty." Clearly this is a writer more familiar with the latter. Flaubert never showed such a malicious disregard for his creations. Janey is despicable on a basic, soulless level, but not crafty enough to keep the reader from nodding off. Her sexcapades and blind pursuit of a wealthy husband give the book a certain bitter aftertaste, certainly darker than her short stories or columns.
"To me, it's not any darker," she says. "I think sometimes people have had too big of a dose of movies and television so they're used to neat little pat endings where the characters are black and white. These characters are not black and white."
True, except in this case the characters are all black. Period. A particularly scathing review by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times took the author to task on the book's vacuous treatment of women. Yet, Bushnell goes on the defensive when asked about Trading Up's essential shallowness.
"It's no more shallow than the world that most people live in," she says. As she puts it, her "men characters" are hugely successful, which means they must be intelligent. And her "women characters," she says, are dealing with more pressures than the rest of us.
Ah, thanks for clearing that up.
"They may take refuge in what appears to be soothingly superficial, but I think it's a really shallow assessment to say they live a shallow life," she says. "I mean, most people sit at home every night and watch TV."
It's odd to see such vitriol from one who owes her position to a TV show. Those superficial TV watchers, after all, put her where she is today.
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