Few marchers in life's rich pageant are enjoying their success as much as Candace Bushnell.
A former columnist for the New York Observer whose feisty 1996 book Sex and the City inspired the ribald HBO series of the same name, Bushnell gleefully rejects the dour, professorial air worn by all too many authors. And she name-drops without an ounce of self-consciousness. "I just did this literary lunch with Liz Smith and Arthur Miller," she divulges in a dishy tone that undoubtedly had a strong impact on Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Bushnell's alter ego, Carrie, on HBO's version of Sex, "and Liz and I were laughing because Time didn't give her book a good review -- and that made me feel really good, because they didn't give my book a good review, either!"
Time is far from the only periodical that's whacked Four Blondes, a big-selling quartet of Bushnell novellas recently issued by Atlantic Monthly Press. For every kind critic, there have been two more lying in wait for the chance to knock this cheerful neo-celeb flat on her fanny. To Bushnell, such reactions are easy to explain. "It's partly jealousy," she believes, "and partly it's people being bad reviewers. Some of them have been gratuitously nasty, as journalists tend to be. That's an underlying component for a lot of them: They feel like they're outsiders, so they want to attack people who they feel aren't. Which is exactly the type of attitude that inspired me to write my favorite story in the book -- about the horrible journalist." She laughs. "That's probably why they've been giving me bad reviews. They recognizethemselves."
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Perhaps. James Dieke, the self-important scribe who, with his unhappy wife, Winnie, is at the heart of "Highlights (for Adults)," Four Blondes' second installment, is a vivid example of a certain unpleasant reportorial type. And plenty of the complaints leveled at Four Blondes have been way out of proportion to its intentions, which are decidedly modest. But despite Bushnell's declaration that "I didn't want to write Sex and the City II: The Further Adventures of Carrie," she's hardly taken off in a startlingly fresh direction. The sort-of-fictional Carrie would have no trouble relating to the often amorous urban heroines, including the comfort-driven model at the heart of "Nice N'Easy" or the swinging New Yorker-in-London the reader follows through the concluding "Single Process."
Fortunately, though, even the least of Bushnell's efforts (and some of them are little more than lightweight riffs) are made tolerable by her trademark sassiness, not to mention her playful vulgarity. For instance, this slumming sophisticate doesn't balk in the slightest when she's asked about the proliferation of poop-chute references in Four Blondes. After revealing that a hideous movie-bigwig character's insistence on anal sex in "Nice N'Easy" was inspired by a trip to Aspen, where Bushnell was told that intercourse of this type had become the "in" thing in Hollywood ("because that way their girls can't get pregnant"), she recalls the roots of her scatology.
"When I was a kid, I shared a bedroom with my sister, and each night we'd tell a continuing story; she'd tell it one night and I'd tell it the next night," she says. "And when we were five, our favorite story was about this family that for some reason was always getting flushed down the toilet and going through the sewer system and popping up in somebody else's toilet, surprising them. We thought that was hysterically funny. So maybe all the asshole stuff is kind of left over from a personal childhood thing.
"But the truth is, it's still funny." -- Michael Roberts