Almost Famous

At first, you don't want to admit it, because it seems somehow wrong--just too easy. After all, the woman on the other end of the phone line is not that woman seen every Sunday night on HBO, lamenting the sad, sorry state of her love affairs. She's not an actress or a character, but a real person--an author of two books, a 41-year-old woman in a happy relationship, a successful writer who divides her time between three homes (in New York, the Connecticut countryside, and London) when not on the road promoting her latest novel. Still, you can't escape the obvious. It's there--this sound that can't be ignored.

Candace Bushnell, author of the book titled Sex and the City, sounds just like Sarah Jessica Parker, star of the TV show titled Sex and the City and the woman who, for the past three seasons, has played Bushnell's alter-ego, sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw. Talking to Bushnell is like appearing on an episode of Sex and the City, albeit a sometimes dull and hard-to-follow episode (after all, there's no sex on a fire truck). Bushnell and Parker share the same burnished whine, the same stuttered rhythms, the same amused exasperation. When Candace begins talking about her affinity for the flawed female literary heroine, you can easily imagine the words coming from Carrie's mouth as she dines with girlfriends Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte over a lunch of Cosmopolitans and croquembouche at Balthazar. They are all, of course, wearing Dolce & Gabbana and Prada while talking about funky spunk, lifelike dildoes, and how you can fake an orgasm but not intimacy.

"Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones are not classic literary heroines," Bushnell says. "These are everygirls, and by definition, an everygirl is not a classic literary heroine. Look at any of the classics. Anna Karenina--can we talk about pathetic? OK? Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair? Sorry, but Daisy Buchanan? Horrible character if you look at it." It doesn't help that Bushnell explains before the interview begins that she has a camera crew with her, documenting the life of the Famous Author. Life can only imitate art for so long, before they become the same awful but kinda wondrous thing.

Every now and then, a journalist will actually confuse Carrie with Candace. They will stop in the middle of an interview and complain that Candace isn't as witty as Carrie; they will wonder aloud (and really, what nerve) why she doesn't utter those pithy, familiar one-liners--like, say, "Man may have discovered fire, but women discovered how to play with it." Every now and then, Bushnell will have to remind her interrogators that, hey, this ain't TV.

"I live the rest of my life as a normal person," she says. "I have my friends, my boyfriend, I work, I do the same things that everybody else does. [The show] is not something that is in my face. And I've lived in New York City for 20 years, so I've known people here for years and have been going to the same restaurants, so there isn't like a big, big change in my life. The only thing that happens that sometimes pisses me off is I have done interviews, and people say"--she affects a nasal whine--""But you're not exactly like the character. You're not as funny.' It's like, "Hello. I don't have four comedic television writers writing jokes for me. Get it?' That's annoying, but it's not that confusing."

So get it straight: Carrie Bradshaw is not Candace Bushnell, at least not the current model. Bushnell likes to say that her TV counterpart is the 1996 vintage, back when she was still dating Mr. Big (in reality, Talk Media president Ron Galotti) and trolling Manhattan for stories about threesomes, sex swap meets, and how men who ride bikes have stinky crotches. Today, she's in a relationship with an English venture capitalist named Stephen Morris--the ex-boyfriend of Bushnell's ex-best friend and roommate of more than a decade. Today, she's a novelist, having just published Four Blondes, which contains four stories about four women in search of the Perfect Relationship--or, in the case of Janey in the book's first tale, a place in the Hamptons for the summer.

The new book reads much like the old book, even if reading both is like not reading at all (a compliment, really, as Bushnell possesses a deft, funny, and very light touch). Men and women cross paths, even fall in love for a moment or two, even have kids. They screw, screw up, screw around, screw themselves; they think things they never say and say things they never do (like divorce their philandering husbands or boorish wives). They are never happy, because they are never complete--not Janey, the pseudo-supermodel house hunter; not Winnie, the unhappily married journalist; not Cecelia, the paranoid American princess; not even the unnamed narrator of the final story, the New York sex columnist who moves to London in search of a husband. Actually, that last part's not quite true: At the end of the story "Single Process," we're left to believe that the heroine, Candace but not Candace, is indeed happy and in love, and her mother wants to know about floral arrangements. But that, Bushnell concludes, "is another story."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky