One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
In the wake of Hollywood’s glam blockbuster based on her Sex and the City columns, Candace Bushnell’s new novel delivers a sobering wake-up call to young girls who dream of being the next Carrie Bradshaw. One Fifth Avenue’s anti-ingenue Lola Fabrikant moves to the city to do exactly that, even insisting on an apartment in the West Village, where Ms. Bradshaw supposedly lived. But the only thing this Lola gets from her author is a reality check. When the girl’s gold-digging spirals into more obvious prostitution, Lola is force-fed the bitter antidote to Carrie’s sugar: the lesson that a pretty face and unfounded self-confidence don’t guarantee Hollywood endings on a platter, and you do have to work hard to make it in this world.
One Fifth Avenue introduces us to a New York wonderland of old money, new money, celebrities and hangers-on, each with his own stash of pipe schemes and burning resentments. Most of this novel’s women choose social-climbing over seeking soul-mates, but it’s not even money they’re after. It’s status–which, here, boils down to real estate. The building binds this "family" together, as it also binds the book: One Fifth is at once protagonist, the only universally beloved character and implied free-floating narrator. Bushnell even uses the building structure to mirror relationships between her characters.
It’s an enjoyable read–a breezy page-turner with philosophical depth and a swift pace. It could be funnier, but it’s fun, minus the occasional moments when her 40-somethings get redundant about their identical depressions and creeping discontent, or when her 20-somethings get redundant about being caricatures and having no thoughts in their heads.
Bushnell has a knack for types, which she uses to ground her analyzes. The trade-off is that some characters come off like cross-sections of their ages, jobs, net worth and (of course) addresses. Hence, Ms. Lola the walking cautionary tale.
Lola is the literalized parody of everything Carrie Bradshaw. She gets hired as a sex columnist, but not to document all that relationship sap–to write pornographic play-by-plays of her sexual activity. She is the evidence for one character’s degree that "Mankind is going backward": she recreates appearances, expecting the real thing to follow. Wanting to be taken seriously one afternoon, she buys a pair of glasses.
As her lover puts it, she can’t tell the artist from the hack, the real thing from the wanna-be: "In her mind, a blogger was the same as a novelist, a star on a reality show was equal to an actress. It was her generation… They had grown up in a culture of insistent democracy in which everyone was the same and everyone was a winner." But there is a difference, Bushnell wants us to see. Lola is a weed that goes by the name "muse" until her spray-on sweetness wears thin and a putrid smell betrays her rot. Meanwhile, the last two decades have only added to the actress Schiffer Diamond’s sparkle proof that this one’s a true gem. Likewise, if One Fifth has endured this long, there must be good reason.
Lola believes in herself so purely without reason that it’s "almost inspiring," but that "almost" is the crucial catch in her mixed-up strategy of getting ahead. Looking the part, you come painfully close to the real thing. You may even fool some people, for a while. But time will tell. It always does, as One Fifth knows. And if you hope to someday establish yourself in a place like One Fifth, you–like everybody else– will have to come in the front door.
As a CEO remarks after a hiatus from work, "soul-searching’s good but achievement is better." Bushnell wants us young folks to learn from this: you are what you do. Make something of yourself. Build yourself to last like Ms. Diamond. (Photo: WENN)
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