Candace Bushnell, One Fifth Avenue (2008)

Exactly 2 years ago, on Sept. 22, 2008, One Fifth Avenue was officially released. I don’t know if there were champagne and petits fours at the party (or if there was even a party).

I doubt I’ve heard about it in the headlines though, because the media was full of other news: one week before, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and just 4 days before, Treasury Secretary Paulson proposed a $700 billion emergency bailout through the purchase of toxic assets. We were all wondering what was going on with our jobs, our banks, our money and our homes.

In this turmoil, this hefty chick-lit novel, part satire, part fairy-tale, must have gone relatively unnoticed. After all, chick-lit is for empty-headed girls, right? Escape literature in dire times, anyone?

Except that the chick-lit label is quite wrong here, when you go beyond the cover art showing 5 wonderfully thin, wealthy and beautiful creatures who all live in Manhattan, at One Fifth Avenue, the most coveted address in town. It’s not so much about those women but about real-estate, and it captures the world of the super-rich dancing on the brink of disaster.

It doesn’t have the “nice girlfriends” feeling of “Sex and The City”, it’s about greed, envy (over the best locations in town, over the most successful husbands, etc.), and bitterness for those who don’t have it all (Mindy Gooch is a great, if not particularly loveable, example). Some characters in this satire are undoubtedly sad, so that I grinned a lot while reading it (Bushnell has a sharp eye!), but never really laughed.

I kept thinking: what will happen to these characters in a mere 2 months’ time? A telling indication of the nearing disaster is the fate of young Lola Fabrikant, the 20-something gold-digging slacker whose only strategy to make it in New York is to seduce a rich man. About 2 third of the book, her parents, nouveaux riches from Texas, file for bankruptcy and their home ends in foreclosure. But what about the others?

If we take away the chick-lit label, Candace Bushnell may be aiming at big references like Fitzgerald or Edith Wharton. It’s not as deep and subtle as the big masters, because it’s satire but there’s definitely more to it than a few hours of shallow entertainment.

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