Book Review: Trading up by Candace Bushnell

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

This is a pretty mediocre book. Its worst flaw is that every one of the characters is so downright despicable that you end up not caring a jot what happens to any of them. You find yourself hoping that Janey will get her come-uppance, but unfortunately when she does, it’s short-lived. The writing is barely okay, certainly nothing outstanding, and the plot development is sluggish.

On the positive side, Candace Bushnell obviously knows the Manhattan social scene well and at times you feel that the descriptions are depressingly accurate. I say depressing because it comes across as being such a shallow and superficial world that I am happy to be well removed from it. It’s kind of fun to guess at the inspiration behind some of the characters – Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, Anna Wintour, Aerin Lauder…

I continued with this book hoping it would get better. It didn’t. It’s not the worst book that I’ve read, but I still wouldn’t recommend it.

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