Title: One Fifth Avenue
Author: Candace Bushnell
Release Date: September 22, 2008
Genre: Chick Lit
Rating: **** (out of 5)
From the dust jacket:
From one of the most consistently astute and engaging social commentators of our day comes another look at the tough and tender women of New York City–this time, through the lens of where they live.
One Fifth Avenue, the Art Deco beauty towering over one of Manhattan’s oldest and most historically hip neighborhoods, is a one-of-a-kind address, the sort of building you have to earn your way into–one way or another. For the women in Candace Bushnell’s new novel, One Fifth Avenue, this edifice is essential to the lives they’ve carefully established–or hope to establish. From the hedge fund king’s wife to the aging gossip columnist to the free-spirited actress (a recent refugee from L.A.), each person’s game plan for a rich life comes together under the soaring roof of this landmark building.
Acutely observed and mercilessly witty, One Fifth Avenue is a modern-day story of old and new money, that same combustible mix that Edith Wharton mastered in her novels about New York’s Gilded Age and F. Scott Fitzgerald illuminated in his Jazz Age tales. Many decades later, Bushnell’s New Yorkers suffer the same passions as those fictional Manhattanites from eras past: They thirst for power, for social prominence, and for marriages that are successful–at least to the public eye. But Bushnell is an original, and One Fifth Avenue is so fresh that it reads as if sexual politics, real estate theft, and fortunes lost in a day have never happened before.
From Sex and the City through four successive novels, Bushnell has revealed a gift for tapping into the zeitgeist of any New York minute and, as one critic put it, staying uncannily “just the slightest bit ahead of the curve.” And with each book, she has deepened her range, but with a light touch that makes her complex literary accomplishments look easy. Her stories progress so nimbly and ring so true that it can seem as if anyone might write them–when, in fact, no one writes novels quite like Candace Bushnell. Fortunately for us, with One Fifth Avenue, she has done it again.
I used to dislike Candace Bushnell quite a bit. Not as a person (I don’t know her, of course), but as an author; I could never find real enjoyment in her books. Instead, I’d always become frustrated with her vapid characters and find myself utterly disliking her novels. I admit, I have not read Sex and the City, the book that has defined Bushnell’s career. But I have read Trading Up and 4 Blondes (I can’t remember much of anything about either, which means that I found them completely forgettable), but I do remember Lipstick Jungle. For some reason, I couldn’t stand it – I’m not sure if it was the characters or the plot, or maybe my own prejudices, but I found myself hating the book every step of the way. After that experience, I decided to simply stop reading Bushnell’s works…but then came One Fifth Avenue.
In the end, I decided to read One Fifth Avenue because of the reviews I had read. I heard it was a bit more grown up than Bushnell’s other novels, and that she had developed as a writer. I heard that it might be her best work to date. So I decided to go ahead and give it a try. And I’m glad I did.
One Fifth Avenue is, in essence, a book about people. Though the title is the address of a prestigious apartment building in Manhattan (shown below), the book is about the people living within the structure.
There are too many characters in the book to be able to address each individually, but each really is worthy of mention. There is Mindy, the woman who the reader is supposed to hate at the beginning of the book, but she slowly becomes more palatable, to the point where she is a very sympathetic character. And the there is Lola, the character that every reader will love to hate because she is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the “reality TV” generation. Then there is Paul, who morphs from a relatively likeable guy to something else entirely, Annalisa, who is dear from the beginning of the book to the end, and James, who the reader ends up just feeling sorry for through the course of the book. Like him or hate him, Phillip is simply weak, and Schiffer is not your typical Hollywood starlet. And there are more characters that I haven’t mentioned.
That brief description might give you a picture of what the novel is like. However, it is not difficult keeping the characters straight; Bushnell does a wonderful job giving each of them a distinct personality. It really is an ensemble drama that is a treat to witness. I really did enjoy this book, and it has given me new respect for Candace Bushnell. Though I never doubted her ability to write, I did question her character-writing skills. I am glad to say that I was completely and utterly wrong. Give One Fifth Avenue a chance; you will be drawn into a world of obscene wealth and desperation, but also of love and forgiveness. If you enjoy reading about socialites or chick lit in general, this book is not to be missed.