Pink champagne, drunken girls’ nights, poolside gossip, New York lofts, film-producing bottom dwellers, casual sex, gorgeous actors and actresses, recreational drugs: anyone who lived in a cave between 1998 and 2004, when HBO aired Sex and the City—a series based on Candace Bushnell’s novel of the same name—might read Killing Monica with virgin eyes. Everyone else will find the sexcapades in Bushnell’s new novel exactly what they bargained for.
For the uninitiated, a brief but critical primer: Bushnell parlayed a successful New York Observer column, “Sex and the City,” into a novel that then became the hit television series. The book’s protagonist, played on the show by Sarah Jessica Parker, was Bushnell’s alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw, a writer also living in New York City. Those are the facts.
Now here’s the fiction. In Killing Monica, Pandemonia James Wallis, a forty-something New York writer known to her friends as PJ or Pandy, has written four wildly successful novels about the exploits of a character named Monica. All the books have been adapted for the screen. In the beginning, before Pandy is frozen out of the filmmaking process, studio honchos consult her, inviting her input and letting her sit in on auditions. In fact, she is so influential at first that she handpicks the actress to play Monica. The studio flies her to Los Angeles for casting discussions, and as she’s sitting in the back of a town car she sees a gorgeous model on a billboard. “I want that girl,” she declares. A few vodka cranberries and an overpriced hotel later, she gets a meeting with SondraBeth Schnowzer.
The two become fast friends, partying, snorting a little coke, and forgetting critical details of boozy club nights that go on well past the point of propriety. In true Hollywood style, the pair becomes known as “PandaBeth” in celebrity gossip columns and on the social network Instalife. Then SondraBeth’s success as Monica becomes so all-consuming and her judgment so clouded by the depraved and narcissistic nature of the film industry that she betrays Pandy in a perfectly predictable way. Years later, when Pandy’s train wreck of a marriage to celebrity chef Jonny Balaga implodes, the two women are brought together again by a belief that the fictional Monica has wrecked both their lives.
So entwined with Monica is Pandy’s reputation that her new book based on an accomplished female ancestor, Lady Wallis, is rejected by her publisher. “They said, ‘But PJ Wallis doesn’t write historical fiction. So people looking for a PJ Wallis book will be angry. Disappointed,’” Pandy’s agent explains. “I said that begged the question as to their publishing it under another name. Which they’d likely do, but not with your current advance. So if you want to keep the advance, you’ll have to give them their PJ Wallis book. And they want it to be about Monica. They suggested that Monica get divorced. Try online dating.”
It doesn’t take a Hollywood insider to recognize that this novel is blatantly autobiographical—that Monica is Carrie, that Pandy is Candy Bushnell, that SondraBeth Snowzer is Sarah Jessica Parker, and that Jonny Balaga is Bushnell’s own ex-husband. “Bushnell denies that Monica is Carrie and insists that the character of SondraBeth, whose affair with a junkie movie star evokes Parker’s romance with Robert Downey Jr., ‘is completely fictional,’” a New York Daily News review of the book reads. “But let’s get real.”
The fun of a book like this, though, is that it is delightfully unreal—to the reader, anyway. Whatever Bushnell’s feelings about how her own creation played out, Killing Monica is legitimate escapist fare. Who among us will find ourselves poolside on a Thursday at midday, working on a second bottle of champagne with our BFFs? None of us. And that’s why it’s fun to fantasize.