'I couldn't help but wonder...' These five words are etched on to the brain of every human with XX chromosomes who came of age in the 1990s, courtesy of one woman: Candace Bushnell. But what happens when the cornerstones of that cosmopolitan life - love, work, the city that never sleeps - fall aprt? In her new memoir, the woman behind Carrie Bradshaw explores the fallout of her failed marriage, the death of her parents and her disentachment with New York City in her signature skewering style. But it's not all tears - as Bushnell enters the dating fray, she navigates 'Hot-Drops', 'The Spouse Child' and 'He's As Old As Your Father Guy' with hilarity, humanity and warmth. Say hello to your next book-club hit.
It’s hardly as though there were no warning signs that the Sex and the City shtick had had its day. In the Guardian in 2015, Peter Preston wrote:
There are moments in journalism when a whole genre hits the buffers. Welcome to ‘It’s a Date’ in the Sunday Times Style mag — the last knockings of the Candace Bushnell Academy of Sexual Disclosure.
Those who have persisted in carrying on creakily have become increasingly embarrassing. One thinks of poor Liz Jones at the Mail, who still writes in the breathless manner of Carrie Bradshaw but now with the added benefits of growing a post-menopausal beard while dating old blokes with prostate problems and erectile dysfunction. Which makes it all the more perplexing that such a good writer as Bushnell has produced this slapdash landfill.
Is this book meant to be funny? I’m honestly not sure. Bushnell has a gift for snappy phrasemaking but snappy tends to be the apposite word. And the relentless obsession with age, money, status is plain depressing. Moreover, Bushnell’s claim that she and her friends are “always there for each other” is rather given the lie when one of them take their own life. Maybe “there” is not enough.
So who, if anyone, will find this book cheering? I scratched my head for a while then suddenly realised – smug marrieds of course. They can read it and think that, however boring they find their husbands, however onerous the child care, they can thank their lucky stars they don’t have to emulate Candace Bushnell. But that still doesn’t seem a good enough reason for reading her.
The moments when it takes off are when we feel as if we’re getting close to who Bushnell really is: the woman who says she will do anything for a man but whose friends always come first, who can get ripped off by a beautician to the tune of $4,000 and who does not walk out on a date when a man stands in front of his bed and says: “I’ve had a lot of great sex on that bed. And I hope to have a lot more in the future.” That is a flawed and potentially interesting woman. If you can look past the MAM (Mid-Aged Madness) and MNBs (My New Boyfriends), it’s fun getting to know her.
It’s not easy to recreate the magic formula of an epoch-defining best seller. Bushnell gives it her best shot, sprinkling her trademark acronyms and nicknames like comedy confetti. There are “SAPs” (senior age players), one of whom might become “M.N.B” (my new boyfriend), and “Super Middles” (people dedicated to the exhausting business of looking younger than they did when they were young). She is funny on “cubbing” (dating men in their 20s and trying to master their horrible slang) and on “MAM” (middle-aged madness, which Bushnell claims is the female version of the male midlife crisis). Any woman in that age bracket, however, will recognize the thunderous mood-swings as symptoms of that state the author is so weirdly reluctant to mention...At the end, there is tragedy for one of the women in the Village group. But we have hardly learned their names, let alone their characters, so the emotional impact is dulled.
Given the book’s title, the reader might expect Bushnell to cue up endless anecdotes about postmenopausal dating in New York. And yet the question remains largely unanswered. Bushnell returns briefly to the city to try out Tinder (launched in 2012) as if it were the latest sexual incarnation. She has two dates with the hapless musician Jude, before coming to the realisation that Tinder is all about men wanting oral sex, the least disputed fact in the entire book. That pretty much concludes her dating research, barring one subsequent encounter with a 75-year-old and then the joyful discovery of her own Mr Big towards the end, both of which events take place in the Hamptons.