Candace Bushnell's `Blondes': fallen cupcakes

September 10, 2000|By MARIA BLACKBURN | MARIA BLACKBURN,SUN STAFF

"Four Blondes," by Candace Bushnell. Atlantic Monthly. 245 pages. $24.

Is there anything the women from "Sex and the City" won't say or do? They drink like barflies, spawn like salmon and chatter like macaws about everything from "modelizers"(men who date only models) to "toxic bachelors" (men who are allergic to commitment).

Honest, uncensored dishing about sex and men and more sex is what makes the HBO sitcom, based on Candace Bushnell's book by the same name, so appealing. The writing may not be especially rich, but like the perfect chocolate cupcake, it's sinfully sweet, tasty and harmless.

Now comes Bushnell's new book, "Four Blondes" -- four novellas, each one about -- of course -- a New York blonde. Has she done it again?

Not really.

Something gets lost this time in the former New York Observer columnist's take on modern Manhattan. The women date and dish as usual, but the end result ends up seeming more like stale Wonder Bread. The book starts out promisingly enough with "Nice `N Easy," the story of Janey Wilcox, a former model and "it" girl who has spent every summer for the last 10 years in the Hamptons without paying for more than the occasional Jitney ticket. How does Janey do it? She does it.

"The secret to getting rich men, which so many women never figured out, was that getting them was easy, just as long as you didn't have any illusions about marrying them," Bushnell writes. Janey sleeps her way into a fabulous array of summer rentals until she discovers that what she really wants is a tiny place of her own. She gets it, along with a fat modeling contract, a screenwriting career and an in-ground pool.

Alas, this determination from such a committed and well-characterized man-eater comes too quickly. As the story ends, the reader is left wondering if perhaps she skipped a couple of crucial pages.

The book starts out passably and spirals down. "Highlights (For Adults)," about a hateful Yuppie couple named James and Evie, and "Snow Angels," about the paranoid wife of one of the world's most eligible bachelors, are neither skillful nor deft. They're just awful.

The author's talent for writing effervescent, witty dialogue and dead-on character assessments, so well showcased in her previous work, falters here in large part because her characters are so unlikable. The people are too broadly drawn, the plots too clunky.

By the time the reader reaches "Crossing the Pond," the likeable tale of a journalist who jets to London to find a man because she can no longer scare up a suitable specimen in New York, the aftertaste of stale '80s fiction is so strong, one can hardly appreciate the story.

When she's good, Bushnell is a little like Joan Didion. When she's bad, she a lot like Tama Janowitz. "Four Blondes" is passable for summer reading, but now that the nights are growing colder, something with a little more substance might be in order. Personally, I recommend curling up in front of the tube with a package of Hostess cupcakes and some reruns of "Sex and the City."

Maria Blackburn, a Sun staff writer in Carroll County and former assistant to the book editor, is a native Bostonian who has never lived in New York City. She hopes she never will.

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