Carrie Bradshaw is a fictional character people often mistake as real. That’s because the fairytale that was “Sex and the City” is one of the biggest novels, TV, and movie hits of all time.
Candace Bushnell—then columnist for the New York Observer, and author of the highly acclaimed books about a New York City “it girl” and her friends—was often labeled a “sexpert” as she wrote about the life of her alter ego, Carrie.
“Sex and the City” was full of ridiculous but delicious fun. It was something 30-plus single women turned to for their own lack of romantic success. Because if those sassy, sexy New Yorkers couldn’t succeed in love, well, who could? It was all about meeting the billion-dollar prince, spending $3000 on shoes, and Upper East Side friendship.
But that was 23 years ago. Now, Candace releases her new novel “Is There Still Sex in the City?”, and let me tell you, it’s definitely a huge departure from Carrie Bradshaw’s story.
Much to people’s surprise, especially those who were fans of the original books, “Is There Still Sex in the City” isn’t about Carrie and her friends at all. The new book is about Candace herself—a memoir of sorts about living in a world where women of 50-plus are having cosmetic surgery and vaginal reconstructions, and spending thousands on face creams. It’s about what happens when her and her girlfriends’ lives take a wrong turn. And by wrong turn I mean divorce.
They are now single, with lives exhausted by ugly separations. No longer the bright young things of Manhattan society, they are plunged into a purgatorial place in the Hamptons where ex-it girls wallow in self-pity and sip champagne by the swimming pool.
If the women in “Sex and the City” were living the dream, these characters are not.
The author used no filters as she wrote about her divorce and how she was recovering from the death of her beloved mother. In the opening chapter of the book, her dog dies and she couldn’t get a mortgage to buy out her ex from the apartment they own, leaving her no choice but to move out. The book is set four years after these tragedies, and she’s moved back into a small apartment in the Upper East Side (a non-hip part of town, which she can afford). The story then moves between here and a place called “The Village,” where we are introduced to a new set of characters–Tilda Tia, Marilyn, Kitty, and Queenie–as they navigate the world of dating.
One of Candace’s dating experiences involves a 75-year-old billionaire who thinks that “Women are greedy. They want expensive handbags” and he can provide them. This made me write a mental note-to-self: Not all rich guys are keepers. Most of them are just full of themselves.
Then there are the “cubs” — young men (barely out of college) who prefer older women. This is unexpected for Candace and her friends, who expect to date older men. But soon they realize that, apparently, there is a market for older women among the youngsters, and these keen boys are flocking to her rich older girlfriends.
Many of Candace’s friends are afflicted with a condition called “middle-aged madness” or MAM. MAM causes all sorts of horrifying symptoms: drunkenness, partying with “cubs,” and on-a-whim cosmetic surgery. It passes once a middle-aged woman of means meets a new man, but it can go on for years. Imagine the horrors in that. This made the future of being middle-aged seem so dangerous to me.
And because a lot of contemporary dating begins online, we see Candace secure a magazine assignment to document her first Tinder experience. For research, she assembles a group of “Tinderellas” in their 20s and early 30s to fill her in. But their feedback is grim as one of them tells her that all the guys on Tinder take prescription drugs. “They’re like: ‘The reason I can’t text you back is because of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).’” However, she still bravely goes on a Tinder date with 31-year-old Jude, the first person she’s ever met online (online dating was was barely a thing yet when “Sex and the City” was published). Initially, she had a good time, but when the next date came around he stands her up after he ends up in a hospital because of a drug overdose.
I confess that I’ve never been wholly interested in the whole dating scene, but even so, I found myself chuckling at how relatable Candace’s Tinder journey was, as well as at the chats with her fellow middle-aged friends (and a couple of younger ones, all of whom have unique interpretations of the app and men!).
“Of all the micro- and macro-aggressions of aging,” Candace writes, “the worst one is when you discover you’ve crossed the bridge from wanting a relationship, with all that entails, to having to settle for its lesser cousin: companionship.” Overall the book is about Candace wrestling with the reality of aging—of how being a fiftysomething woman is different from being a thirtysomething woman. She is now faced with how the world has changed since 1997, specifically changes relating to society’s perception of masculinity and femininity.
It’s highly noticeable that Candace writes more gracefully about topics that are not sex and dating. She seems to believe that she has aged out of a safe and familiar situation where freedom, or grave loneliness, might lie ahead. This book definitely takes a more sensitive approach compared to “Sex and the City.” Candace writes that “One of the great things about middle age, is that most people become a tiny bit nicer.” She goes for slapstick rather than satire, and her witty remarks from her previous novels now have a big sister feel to them.
The book’s message is clear: Life does not stop when you turn 50, and Candace Bushnell’s story proves that as she battles with the freedom that lies ahead after divorce, and the loneliness that comes with it. She stumbles and makes horrible decisions (like going out with that 75-year-old billionaire), but powers through with the help of her friends. She shows how getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting wiser. It’s about being the tough cookie and taking whatever life throws at you, and learning to walk before you run. In her case, run again—in heels of course.