Janey Wilcox is an M.A.W. (that's Model/Actress/Whatever to the uninitiated). The problem with Janey, the protagonist of Candace Bushnell's first novel, Trading Up
, is not the M or the A part. It's the W. Here is a rare alphabetical anomaly: In Janey's case, W stands for "prostitute." Oh, Janey never crosses the line into actual hookerdom, but she does sleep with extremely wealthy men in the hopes they'll improve her status, her financial situation, or her lifestyle. When we first met Janey in Bushnell's novella collection 4 Blondes
, she was up to her usual tricks (so to speak)--scamming a guy for a Hamptons vacation rental. At the opening of Trading Up
, her fortunes have improved. She's now the star of a Victoria's Secret ad campaign, and as such she's found access to undreamed-of echelons of New York society. She makes friends with Mimi Kilroy, a senator's daughter "at the very top of the social heap in New York." She gets invited to all the best parties. And she finally finds a wealthy man who will actually marry her: Seldon Rose, a powerful entertainment industry executive. Of course, Janey's social ambitions are not stoppered by her marriage to Seldon, and the clash between her expectations (more parties!) and his (normal life) send Janey into a tailspin that leads to heartbreak. Bushnell is clearly trying to channel Edith Wharton (The Custom of the Country
is even invoked by Janey as a screenplay idea), but ends up sounding a lot more like a cross between Tama Janowitz and Judith Krantz. This is a novel about shopping and sex, and while it's fizzy enough, it's not Cristal. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
"It was the beginning of the summer of the year 2000, and in New York City, where the streets seemed to sparkle with the gold dust filtered down from a billion trades in a boomtown economy, it was business as usual." In other words, it is business as usual for bestselling author Bushnell (Sex and the City; 4 Blondes), who expands here on the career of shallow, predatory Janey Wilcox. In 4 Blondes, Wilcox was a mildly famous one-time model who bedded men based on their ability to provide her with a great house in the Hamptons for the summer. Now she has become a Victoria's Secret model, a bona fide success in her own right. As the latest summer in the Hamptons kicks off, Wilcox becomes the new best friend of the socialite Mimi Kilroy, who is eager to introduce beautiful Janey to the very rich Selden Rose, the new head of the HBO-like MovieTime. Unlike Janey's many previous hookups, Selden is the marrying kind. What ensues is a grim if well-observed account of a match made in hell. Here's the problem. There is a black hole in the center of the book in the form of Janey Wilcox, a character so dull and humorless that she makes this whole elaborate enterprise one long, boring slog. Granted, Bushnell sets out to chronicle the workings of "one of those people for whom the superficial comfortingly masks an inner void," but Wilcox is not evil enough to be interesting, not talented enough to be Mr. Ripley. Wilcox proceeds from model/prostitute to "Model/Prostitute" on the cover of the Post. But who will care? Bushnell has committed the real crime here: failure to entertain.
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