Catty women of NY

Last Updated 29 August 2015, 18:30 IST
“Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with”: Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City.

This view of the author of the popular Sex and the City (the anthology, sitcom and movie) continues in Killing Monica as well. Bushnell’s latest work of fiction is again based in the bustling and frenetic Big Apple, the dream city for prospective career-searchers. The viewpoint is, as in earlier works by Bushnell, strictly from the female perspective.

PJ ‘Pandy’ Wallis from a small town in Hudson Valley makes it big in the city of everyone’s dreams, New York, by creating the wildly popular Monica book series. The character of the fiercely independent Monica strikes a chord among women readers of her books who identify with her totally. Riding the wave of fame and notoriety of the protagonist, a major studio churns out Monica films, making her even more popular and spawning a Monica industry of sorts.

SondraBeth Schnowzer is another small-town aspirant like Pandy who lands the part of Monica for the movies. The two women, the creator and actor, become friends and are practically inseparable. They are ‘sistahs’ in the real sense of the term! Wild parties with the trademark pink champagne, pool clubs, heart-to-heart chats strengthen their bond and give rise to a fused identity they term PandaBeth. But they don’t realise “even sisters didn’t last forever”. In comes man trouble and SondraBeth’s actress-insecurity! These men include the Greek god-like Doug Stone, the movie star with the dazzling smile, and the gorgeous celebrity chef Jonny Balaga.

The two women fall out personally, but remain connected professionally because of the fictional Monica. They miss each other but circumstances and the scheming men in their lives manage to keep them apart. However, this does not stop them from looking out for each other as is evident when SondraBeth warns Pandy against marrying Jonny. The advice is not taken; instead, Pandy labels her friend SondraBitch for suggesting so! As they are not soul-buddies any longer and barely meet, much less pour out their feelings to one another, the two women are not aware of the other’s urge to get rid of the overpowering character of Monica and return to their respective normal lives. Basically, all is not well in the state of Monicadom! Cheating boyfriends, avaricious husbands, divorce lawyers, disasters: all lead to a finale that is neither here nor there.

Killing Monica is a perfect book for (a) travel and (b) film. Bushnell has the words to create visuals so readers can play the ‘film’, so to speak, as they turn the pages. Yes, it does belong to the chick lit genre, but brings out some home truths as well. Publishers do not want Pandy to write serious historical fiction (not popular, they say!) and want her to churn out more of Monica. An autobiographical touch, maybe? The male propensity for mess finds space: “You’d think with all the space in her loft, Jonny could have chosen one corner in which to dump his dirty laundry. But he couldn’t. Instead, he spread it all around like a dog marking his territory.”

Those who relate to this, raise your hands! Or this point: “Society celebrated the self-made man, but the concept of the self-made woman hardly even existed. Probably because what society insisted defined a woman were her relationships to other people.” That men cannot handle strong women is a fact most women are aware of and this encourages them to act vulnerable at times to pamper manly egos. The harsh truth comes out in Pandy’s voice to her fans. “Who would you be without a label,” she asks. “And we all have them: Mother. Wife. Single Girl. Career Woman. Soccer Mom… Who do we become when that label expires?” All Pandy, and to a certain extent SondraBeth, want is to be recognised for their talents and “not by the standards of male hubris, but by the standards of excellence.” Am sure many women readers can relate to that.

Yes, even chick lit has deep truths embedded, so don’t turn your noses up at it. The story races along for the most part, somewhat unbelievable at times and necessitating suspension of disbelief. This does cause a lack of satisfaction at the finale falling flat-tish as if the author was in a hurry to wrap up things. As if Bushnell was weary of her creation, Pandy  and her lame friends, and wanted out! Her lack of involvement, if indeed it was that, causes the characters to become what they are: fictional people living inside pages instead of jumping out of the book at the reader.
Oh well, read it, forget it!

(Published 29 August 2015, 15:57 IST)

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