‘Sex and the City’ author brings high-powered women to life
Candace Bushnell, the vivacious blonde who wrote the book “Sex and the City,” spurring the hit HBO series, has brought her enthusiasm for a good, juicy tale to Aspen.Although the days of Manolo Blahniks and cosmopolitans aren’t far behind her, these days Bushnell is writing about women in New York City living high-powered lives with the wealthy and the social elite. She speaks tonight at the Hotel Jerome as part of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation Winter Words series.Bushnell’s most recent novel is “Trading Up,” an absorbing story of a woman in New York City in pursuit of the highest rung on the social ladder. The book’s main character, Janey Wilcox, was actually one of four fictional women introduced in Bushnell’s previous novel, “Four Blondes.”Wilcox, who became a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model just before “Trading Up” begins, is the kind of woman who sees it as an omen when her favorite lipstick is discontinued, and who considers dumping her fiancé when she sees him wearing Prada sandals over black socks. In the course of the book, Wilcox maneuvers through the exclusive sets of New York society, including high-style, the filthy rich and complex relationships. The web she spins around herself is a tangle of white lies, egoism and sexual innuendo.
Wilcox’s actions may be hard to understand, but her blind ambition pulls readers in as if they’re one of the men awed by her mere presence.Of course, that’s if you can get past her multitude of flaws. Bushnell is the first to admit that Janey Wilcox is an unlikeable character. She considered “killing her off” with a nervous breakdown until one of her editors convinced her otherwise.”He said, ‘Oh, Janey hasn’t done anything wrong, she hasn’t committed any crimes, I think she should be saved,'” Bushnell said. “And I thought, ‘Yes! That’s the problem with that character. In real life, a man would always come along and save her.’ And it happened to the fictional character. You want her to suffer and to get punished, but she doesn’t, and to me that’s real life.”In fact, Bushnell notes, this is the kind of character you find in Aspen, New York City and the south of France – any place there are men, money and glamour.
But the book is a morality story, Bushnell added, warning women not to follow in her main character’s footsteps.”We as women are told so much stuff about how to get ahead. There’s still that idea that if you marry a rich man, everything will be fine. It’s a fantasy that I think a lot of women are curious about,” she said.”Trading Up” has been compared to the classic works of Edith Wharton; Bushnell said Janey Wilcox is actually modeled after Undine Spragg, in Wharton’s “Custom of the Country.” But nowadays, women characters aren’t believable if they don’t act for fear of overstepping social constraints. That’s the beauty of Janey Wilcox, she said.”These days you do what you have to to get ahead,” she said.Bushnell’s forthcoming book, “The Lipstick Jungle,” will appear in bookstores in September. It is a slight departure from the purely social scene as it follows three women at the top of their careers. They’re “übercareer women” – a fashion designer, a magazine editor in chief and the president of a movie production company – based on women Bushnell’s met in New York.
“New York City is one of the few places where the women really are as powerful as men,” she said. “This book happens to be about women I know in New York City who are in their 40s and are really successful, someone like Nicole Miller, Cynthia Rowley.”The book offers a glimpse into the lives of these women and their different relationships with men as a result of their careers.”The characters are really recognizable, even if you don’t make a million dollars a year,” she said. “If you’re 27 years old and you’re an assistant, you’re going to read this book and say, ‘I’m going to be one of those women.'”Bushnell’s reading and talk is tonight in the Hotel Jerome ballroom at 5:30 p.m.; tickets are $30. The Writers’ Foundation is also holding a “Cocktails with Candace” party for $75, which includes admission to the reading followed by drinks with Bushnell at 7 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the Aspen Writers’ Foundation at 925-3122.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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