By Anetta Nowosielska | August 8, 2019 | People
For legions of fans still under Carrie Bradshaw’s spell, the release of Candace Bushnell’s latest novel is worthy of celebration. The catch: The posse of older—and seemingly wiser—heroines has moved forward unresolved about the ebb and flow of that thing called “sex and love.” Bushnell helps us make sense of it all.
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Things change quickly when you hang out with Candace Bushnell, best-selling author of novels that defined a generation of women. Take, for instance, our first rendezvous, which was set to take place over a quick cup of coffee so we could discuss her latest book, Is There Still Sex in the City? ($26, Grove Atlantic), a sharp and funny look at sex and dating in your 50s (good news: It hit shelves this week). Instead, it ended in an afternoon of oysters and Champagne degustation. One minute we were planning to shoot the story at the local library; the next, we were setting up at a private residence. Bushnell is not afraid to change her mind—a privilege that comes with experience. It’s possible that years of scrutinizing the cultural zeitgeist made her a rousing storyteller who draws you in with perfectly summed up thoughts, which she tends to articulate in loquacious intervals. She has an uncanny ability to engage in conversation with perfect strangers—so freely that you forget you haven’t been friends for a lifetime. Still, you’re just glad she is out here doing the heavy lifting of decoding social cues, all while wearing fabulous shoes and sipping a glass of bubbly. Her “satire sans ridicule” aside, Bushnell is no cultural critic; rather, this social commentator is less keen to judge and more inclined to explore difficult questions. The jury may be out on whether there is still sex in the city, but this much is true: Bushnell’s literary penchant for what keeps us intrigued never disappoints.
Let’s dive right in, shall we? What’s your take on the state of relationships between men and women today?
CANDACE BUSHNELL: I’d like to think that more women have more autonomy and control over their lives and bodies and fi nances than ever before in the history of the world—or at least since humans started farming—but I’m not sure if it’s true… After all, men have treated women pretty badly over the centuries. It’s only in the last 50 years that women have had financial autonomy. Right now, more women can and are speaking out. But we still have a long way to go when four women a day are killed by their partners in the United States alone. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women. But I know that’s not really the question you’re asking.
So what do you think I’d like to know? How have romantic relationships between men and women changed from the Sex and the City days to now?
CB: The answer is that dating, for everyone, young and old, has changed. I’ll start with the 1980s, when I was in my 20s. There was no internet, [there were] no apps, no cellphones; we had books and newspapers, movies in theaters and a new thing called the Walkman. If you wanted to see porn, you had to rent it from a video store. Life, and therefore dating, was very different. It was easy to meet people. Men asked for women’s numbers and called them for dates, but women could also call men. It was generally considered a good idea to have a couple of dates with someone before you had sex, so men wanted sex but didn’t necessarily expect it immediately. In the 1980s, there were far, far fewer distractions, so people put a lot more face time into relationships and sex. It wasn’t unusual to spend a whole weekend with someone talking, laughing and making love… Now it’s 30 years later and everything is diff erent because of technology. Porn is widely available. You meet someone by sitting in your home and interacting with a 4-inch-by-2-inch piece of metal, plastic, glass… and whatever else is in a cellphone. Men don’t ask women on dates anymore; they expect immediate sex and for that sex to have no emotional ties. It’s fascinating, and it’s one of the things I explored in my story on Tinder in the new book.
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What other themes does Is There Still Sex in the City? dive into?
CB: One of the biggest themes is how much the middle age has changed. This is not your mother’s middle age. Today’s 50- and 60-something-year-old women are expected to move, start a new business and find a new partner, often against a backdrop of life-changing events: divorce, the death of a parent, moving, the loss of a career and children leaving the nest… It’s definitely a ride I took, and when I looked around, I noticed a lot of my friends were on the same raft. We had to figure out how to restart our lives, and in doing so, ask all those questions: Is there still love; is there still romance; is there still sex? And, of course: Is there still friendship?
You are such a girl’s girl. How have women helped you in your life?
CB: In all kinds of ways: At one time, women would go from the family home to their marriage home. Now they don’t, and that time of being single, of being a woman making her way in the world without the protection of a male, becomes a time when female bonding is huge. It’s literally the way we can survive. Those friendships are what drove Sex and the City. And they’re also a huge factor in Is There Still Sex in the City? Because when women are divorced and single, friendship once again comes to the forefront. There’s a feeling that now we have to look after each other.
What are some of the other themes you are interested in exploring literarily?
CB: Quite a few. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries like Agatha Christie. And I have a big yearning to explore the New England Colonies of the 1770s. One of my ancestors invented the first submarine and the first underwater bombs used against the Brits. And I’d also like to write something about the future, which also fascinates me. There are so many options now in the way people can reproduce. It’s really going to force us to reevaluate and reexamine a lot. I also think there are going to be huge breakthroughs in the understanding of literally how we think—the specific chemical reactions—and we will be able to chart them much like they did with DNA.
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What is your take on the literary world today?
CB: That’s a big a question with a lot of little answers. There are so many aspects to ‘the literary world.’ There’s the ‘what’s considered good/bad, worthy/unworthy’ aspect, which is largely political. There’s the business side, because ultimately the literary world is a business and in many ways it’s largely unchanged, except, like every other business, everyone is doing more work for less money. And then there’s the creative side, where if there’s a hit, everyone tries to copy it with their own version, which is how creative industries work. What’s hard to do is come up with something slightly new, get someone to take a chance on it and have it become popular. People like what they like, meaning what’s familiar and not challenging, and it’s hard to get them to try something that might challenge their worldview. All through the ’80s, I was writing about young women in New York City. I’d meet book editors (mostly male) and say, ‘Hey, how about a book about young women in New York City who are trying to have careers and get married?’ And they’d look at me like I was insane or the stupidest person on the island of Manhattan. And they’d say, ‘No one is interested in a book about women; no one is interested in a book about young women; and most of all, no one is interested in a book about young women living in New York City.’ It was really the New York City part that got them. In those days, it was all about the Midwest. And then, finally, in 1995, after I’d written the first four columns of Sex and the City, I met up with the legendary Morgan Entrekin, who bought Sex and the City to be a book. And even then, there were people in the publishing industry who told him he was crazy.
Does spending more time out East than in the city affect you as a writer? How about as a single (albeit dating) woman?
CB: During the years I spent at my house in rural Connecticut, not really seeing anyone, I wrote purely imaginative fiction that didn’t rely on the details of the place I was in. That’s sort of the best—when I can erase the present and live in a completely different headspace… The opposite is true when I’m in Sag Harbor or New York City. I see more people and hear more stories, and I start to see patterns and become fascinated and want to write about that, as opposed to what’s happening in my head in the past or future. And indeed, because I was living in real life, I actually found a real-life boyfriend out here. So, the Hamptons have been good for my dating life.
What are you reading these days?
CB: In the past, I was wedded to the classics… But now I pretty much only read contemporary books. In Sag Harbor, I can walk to two bookstores, Canio’s Books (290 Main St.) and Sag Harbor Books (7 Main St.), and get the most recent fare. The truth is, streaming doesn’t work in my house, and I’m not a huge TV watcher anyway, so I’m perfectly happy to settle in at 9pm with a book. Lately, I’ve enjoyed Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner ($28, Atria Books), Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro ($25, Alfred A. Knopf), City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert ($28, Riverhead Books), The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora ($27, Grove Atlantic) and Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner ($27, Random House).
What do you hope readers will take away from your latest book?
CB: I hope they’ll identify with the characters and the book will secretly say something to them that society doesn’t want to admit, but we as women know to be true. Don’t ask me what that ‘it’ is; if I knew, I’d be as rich as Jeff Bezos. I also hope that they’ll laugh out loud because it really is a funny book.
Photography by: Photography by Dennis Golonka; Styled by Valerie Duardo