This is how busy Andrea Rodgers is: Not only do I review the newish books that publishers send to us occasionally, but I also review the books she has had on her shelves and hasn’t managed to get to yet. Which is how I came to be reviewing Candace Bushnell‘s novel, Lipstick Jungle, a year after the television show spin-off went off the air.
Bushnell, who is also the creator of Sex and the City, has a knack for creating interesting, relatable women. There’s Nico, the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine who plans to take over the entire publishing arm of her company but is growing disillusioned with success, Wendy, the president of a film company who believes that she can somehow earn love the way she has earned success, and Victory, a fashion designer who values her freedom above all else.
I liked the characters, but grew weary of their talk of money; while I certainly agree that freedom is having control of one’s income, I found the constant talk of how much townhouses and flights and hotel rooms cost a little irritating. While the frank admission that the famous New York lifestyle costs a lot of money was refreshing–after awhile, the arrogance of writers and television studios (who pretend that living on a piece of attractive real estate in a major city isn’t a major financial output) destroys their credibility as storytellers–it also became distracting. I read to get lost in words, not to keep a tally of expenses.
Lipstick Jungle reminded me that there is a difference between drama and plot. As a novel, it’s not terrific, but as a launching device for a television show , it makes sense. The characters were well-developed, and, while they have occasional moments of growth, nothing will ever change for them that much. This, I think, is one of the major weaknesses of television as an art form, and it’s a shame to see it in print. But it’s also the sad truth about the human condition, isn’t it? People don’t usually change that much. We may occasionally triumph over our weaknesses, but we will battle with that same weakness again and again, week after week, episode after episode. Nico will still keep trying to take over the company, but will stay satisfied with success for only so long; Wendy will continue to feel the effects of having been married to a man-child who didn’t love her, and Victory will love her billionaire boyfriend, but only to a point. I get it, and I don’t feel like I missed anything by not seeing the show, because without real change in the lives and the outlook of the characters, anything that happens to them is just drama.
To be fair to Bushnell as a writer, by having Wendy be a filmmaker, she afforded herself fun opportunities to comment on the storylines of typical books and movies, and I think one of her points is that women shouldn’t have to change everything, change their lives, change their personalities, in order to be happy. The solution to the big questions and issues in life isn’t always to make big changes, but minor adjustments; Wendy divorces her husband, but buys two loft apartments, one on top of the other, so that the kids are always near each parent. I like that, and I agree with the principle. But as a novel, Lipstick Jungle left me a little disappointed.