The Dog Days of Youth ~ Book Review of ‘Summer and the City’ by Candace Bushnell

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 16, 2012 0 Comments

For nearly every page of this book I couldn’t help but picture a young Sarah Jessica Parker (from in her ‘Footloose’ days) running around New York City back in the age of shoulder pads and mall bangs.  ‘Summer and the City’ is the sequel to Candace Bushnell’s very popular 2010 ‘Carrie Diaries’.  At the end of the first novel Carrie had been accepted into a summer writing program in New York.  Within minutes of arriving in New York her purse is stolen and she is a damsel in distress until she remembers that her high school nemesis, in a moment of reconciliation, jotted the name and number of her successful cousin; Samantha Jones. 


                ‘Summer’ isn’t a page turner, but it had an easy pace that made it a relaxing read.  After all fans of the show know how it is all going to eventually end…we just didn’t know the genesis of how these four New York female archetypes met until now.  However with that said, I should point out that Bushnell deviates from the lore dictated in the last ‘Sex and the City’ movie which had Carrie meeting Miranda while the newly minted lawyer was crying in a dressing room, Samantha when she was an abrasive bartender, and Charlotte during a late night subway ride.  Part of the fun in reading these novels is the discovery of the friendships.  Also added into the mix is the start of Carrie’s writing career along with her introduction to a certain rite of passage normally performed in the bedroom – hint-hint, nudge-nudge.


                Although I believe these books are written for the young adult market, I have to say that I don’t know if many teens are going to get the whole eighties era which includes life without cell phones and word processors – especially the references to manual typewriters.  Further, Bushnell adds subtexts about feminism which for those of us who lived through that decade can appreciate and understand whereas younger readers might not fully value.  Now that I think about it, Carrie’s narration includes more about her day to day life then really anything happening in the outside world except a prolonged city blackout to which after Googling I couldn’t find any reference to except for the 1977 blackout.


                As for Carrie’s love life, it was interesting to read about her being the ingénue whereas in the TV show she often related how men went for younger women without a concern to what was between their ears.  In ‘Summer’ she is the younger woman dating a man barely out of his divorce much to the chagrin of women nearer his generation.   She also experiences young love and is able to tromp around New York carefree and smitten – which I thought made for a fun passage.            


                 As for her friends and their sex lives there are stories with punch lines of how men did them wrong.  I suppose this attitude could be attributed to an 80’s sensibility or perhaps it is just how I look at things.  I get uncomfortable with casting the majority of men into the role of jerks because one, men are no more likely to be horrible human beings than women and two, by casting the whole male race as A-holes it tends to excuse bad behavior as if they can’t help it because they are men and that is what men do.   I’m sure it is no shock to anyone familiar with the characters that Miranda voices these anti-XY sentiments more so than the others.  As the ‘Carrie Diaries’ novels progress I hope Bushnell helps flush out Miranda’s anger by revealing the event/s that have made the character the least likeable.  Although I understand how Carrie and Miranda became friends, I am unconvinced that if I were in Carrie’s high heeled shoes I would have pursued the friendship.  There is only so much hostility I can take from someone on the cusp of being a friend. 


           As for Samantha, she is Samantha, and because of her preoccupation with a relationship along with her career she is absence for chunks of the novel, yet I still found her the most interesting of the group.  Charlotte makes an appearance late in the book.  As for Carrie’s two sisters introduced in the first novel, she barely mentions them except for a brief trip home where she treats her father’s new girlfriend with an unfortunate disdain.   


             Probably the most ironic thing I found while reading the novel is that I had the same issues with the literary version of Carrie that I had with the one in the television show and movies (although much less in the films) she always seemed to be complaining/producing drama about things not worth the time and energy.  Really, if I knew someone like that in my real life I would constantly fight the urge to tell them to ‘just let it go’ and then not return their calls.


           I don’t know how many ‘Carrie Diary’ novels Bushnell is planning nor if she is going to take the characters in a different direction than the ones we have grown to know on both the small and large screen (God knows the Sookie of Charlaine Harris’ novels and their ‘True Blood counterparts have grown to be nothing alike).  My one hope is that she matures Carrie a bit and gives her some perspective beyond snap judgments and off the cuff remarks.  BTW, speaking of TV/film this series of novels are already being touted for either a CW series of their own movie franchise.


            Overall I enjoyed ‘Summer and the City’ and would recommend it to anyone looking for some easy escapist literature.  I think the fun of these novels is the retro experience of visiting a New York City prior to the Disneyfication of Times Square.  I’m not saying I would want to go back to that era, but it is fun to briefly visit.


Westerfield © 2011

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