Arts & Entertainment: Friday, October 20, 2000

“Four Blondes” by Candace Bushnell

By Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

Author Candace Bushnell wrote a gossipy sex column for the New York Observer, which became the book “Sex and the City,” which became the hit HBO series, which made her semi-famous.

Which goes to show that spending the 1980s in the club scene was actually a good career move.

Bushnell is thin, almost tall, quite attractive and blond. She is single, lives in New York City, and socializes with people who are rich, or powerful, or famous, or at least well-known for having fun.

“Four Blondes” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24) is four novellas about four thin, attractive, blond women. Three of the four leads are single, all live in New York City, and all socialize with, or aspire to socialize with, the type of people who read or appear in The New York Times Style section.

This is Jacqueline Susann meets Edith Wharton, a novel of manners with no manners, pop literature that smartly captures the mores and obsessions of our times and does so with wit, insight and a lot of talk about sex. Bushnell writes enough about penises to make Philip Roth blush.

The first story, “Nice ‘N Easy,” focuses on Janey, an aging model looking for a man with a good summer house. “The secret to getting rich men, which so many women never figured out, was that getting them was easy, as long as you didn’t have any illusions about marrying them. There was no rich man in New York who would turn down regular (sex) and entertaining company with no strings attached.”

Or in Seattle for that matter.

Janey’s approach to life, where a summer house in the Hamptons is the pinnacle of aspiration, results in some unsurprising indignities. She’s warped, but she pays for her sins. Bushnell, like Susann, understands that readers want the fabulous to suffer for their fabulousness.

Winnie, the female lead of “Highlights (for Adults),” writes a “political/style column.” Her husband writes thought pieces for serious publications. They think of themselves as serious and important people because of their serious and important New York City lifestyle.

However, Winnie is disappointed with her husband. “He should have written a major, important work by now, which should have elevated her status in the journalistic world as his wife (she didn’t take his name for no reason).”

They both know something is wrong in their relationship, and in their lives, and they act out in various neurotic ways. As annoying as Winnie is, her emasculated husband is worse, and it’s a credit to Bushnell’s skills that she kept me involved with these two yuppie weasels, primarily by hitting notes that continually rang true.

“Platinum” is narrated by Cecilia, a crazy woman who thinks someone is trying to poison her. When she was a young girl, she wanted to marry a prince. As an adult, she married a prince. Now her life is nuts. Photographers follow her constantly, and her paranoia does not seem unreasonable. I kept hoping someone would poison her.

Bushnell has already sold the screen rights to Universal Pictures.

“Single Process” – yes, the titles all allude to hair coloring – features the character who most obviously resembles the author. Minky, a sex columnist, travels to London to meet a man because, “In London, if you’re an attractive, nice girl with some personality and a career, you can meet a man, date him, and – if you want to – marry him. On the other hand, in New York, you can be a beautiful woman with a body like Cindy Crawford’s and a high-powered career and you cannot even get a date.”

Minky meets a man with fairy-tale potential on the plane home, but the ending feels ambiguous, as it does with each of these stories.

Acceptance seems a theme throughout, but it’s not clear if acceptance is a defeat or a Zenlike victory. Bushnell’s women all want to be not alone, to be loved, to be with a man, but some of them also want to be men, and things don’t quite mesh for any of them.

Bushnell’s satire is on target and unstrained, except for occasional one-liners like “the rap artist Toilet Paper.” She can be careless with her prose and structure, but has a good eye for details, a great ear for dialogue and an excellent mind for dirty thoughts, which I expect will be toned down for the movie and TV series, even if it’s cable. So read the book.


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