Sex and the City was a fairytale. It was a parlour game. Pick a character! Are you the sexpot, the serious brilliant one, the air-headed sweet girl, or the princess with $3000 shoes? Will you meet your billionaire prince, or be flung to the eternal dungeon of spinsterhood?
But for all its ridiculousness (and it was ridiculous, who lives like that?) it was also delicious fun. The weekly Sex and the City fix was something 30-plus singleton women could use as a cultural touchpoint for their own lack of romantic success. If those sassy, sexy New Yorkers couldn't succeed in love, well, who could?
In the fairytale finale, Carrie Bradshaw (Candace Bushnell's alter ego) is followed to Paris by Big (her on-off paramore) who declares his love. It's schmaltzy, but it's a fairytale, and fairytales (the American versions, anyway), are always schmaltzy.
Fifteen years on from the final episode of Sex and the City, and more than 20 years since Bushnell's book of essays was published, she has decided to take us back into the love lives of affluent New Yorkers. But this time around, it's not 30-somethings who are in the spotlight. It's 50-somethings.
In this post-fairytale world, women of a certain age are having cosmetic surgery, vaginal reconstructions and spending thousands on face creams.
They are single: their lives shattered by ugly divorces. No longer the bright young things of Manhattan society, they are plunged into purgatory–a place called "The Village" where dumped ex "it" girls wallow in self-pity by the swimming pool, supping on champagne.
It's easy to pity Bushnell. A few years before she wrote the book, she was freshly divorced, recovering from the death of her beloved mother. In the opening chapter of Is There Still Sex in the City?, her dog dies. It's all sad, human stuff. She can't get a mortgage to buy out her ex from the apartment they own, she has to move out. It sucks.
Most of the book is set four years post this personal apocalypse. She's moved back into a small apartment in the Upper East Side (a non-hip part of town, which she can afford). The book moves between here and a place called The Village, which may be the Hamptons, where she owns another property. And we are introduced to a new set of characters–Tilda Tia, Marilyn et al–as they navigate the world of 50-plus dating.
One of Bushnell's dating experiences involves a 75-year-old billionaire, who, tired of young flesh decides to sink his vile tentacles into someone more age appropriate. This guy is gross. He dates 25-year-olds, and admits that there is no chance they are really attracted to him. The system works in his favour, he says, because women are greedy. They want expensive handbags, and he can provide them.
Then there's the "cubs" — young men, barely out of college, with a penchant for older women. This is unexpected for Bushnell and her friends, men are meant to be older than women, surely? But apparently there is a market for older women among the youngsters, and these keen pups are flocking to Bushnell's rich older mates like moths to a flame.
Many of the women in Bushnell's book set are afflicted with a condition called "middle-aged madness" or MAM. MAM causes all sorts of horrifying symptoms: drunkenness, partying with "cubs", on-a-whim cosmetic surgery. It passes once a middle-aged woman of means meets a new man, but it can go on for years. The horror.
There's no denying that Bushnell is funny and socially savvy. Hers is the world of the one per cent (her dearest wish is to go to rich people's parties and drink their champagne) and she is able to encapsulate the foibles.
But all the extravagant spending, sex in pool houses, liposuction and Botox, seems empty and kind of desperate.
What made Sex and the City refreshing was that it allowed women in their 30s to be single. It was a female perspective on sex. It was liberating. In 2019, we have every perspective on sex available. The female perspective in drama, while still underrepresented, isn't such a rarity. What gave the original books their vitality in the late 90s and early noughties, is no longer so relevant. And so, we are left with the dating habits of people with buckets of money and little common sense.
The book is easy to read, and funny. A good book to read while waiting for a bus. Or on a plane. But its uncritical take on the culture of excess and extreme privilege is sometimes hard to stomach.
Try as she might, Bushnell can't inject the quirky appeal of Carrie Bradshaw and friends into the characters that inhabit Is There Still Sex in the City?. They are trying too hard to maintain what they should have gracefully let go of years ago.
So, while Candace Bushell finds there is still sex in the city — sex with old men, young men, and everything in between — it's not the sort I want to read about. One of the best things about getting older, is becoming wiser. Something that Bushnell's mates don't seem to have grasped.
Fairytales shouldn't have sequels.