I am not over "Sex and the City," so I was primed for Lipstick Jungle (Hyperion, $24.95), City author Candace Bushnell's new novel. And the lady does not disappoint.
Bushnell is still writing about cozy meals with the girls in Manhattan eateries, the possibility of true love and, of course, boy-cut pants with sequins and other fabulous fashions. But she's also taking her shot at two topics wearily familiar to many Washingtonians: being a powerful woman in a man's world and the elusive work-life balance.
The heroines are three friends in their early forties who, by desire or genetics, tilt those scales heavily toward work. Nico O'Neilly is the married head of Bonfire magazine, a woman with endless ambition and a cool manner. Wendy Healy is the successful but slightly frazzled president of a movie studio and -- minor footnote -- a mother of three. Victory Ford is the closest to a "City" holdover: a single fashion designer playing the field with NYC's most eligible (and permanent) bachelors. Respectively, they are numbers 8, 12 and 17 on the New York Post's list of the city's most powerful women. In Bushnell's words, these are "women who have it all and pay for it all." These poweristas do all the nasty things that male tycoons do: sneak off for adulterous sex with professional models, take for granted that their spouses are holding their households together, and occasionally buy into the ridiculous Trumpism that "it's not personal, it's just business." These gals have it all, but unlike their male counterparts, the side dish is a tycoon-sized helping of female angst and motherly guilt.
The men here are fairly two-dimensional, but then the book isn't really about them. And unless you occasionally think your $1,000 sheets aren't quite soft enough, you probably won't be able to relate to the lifestyles. But as a light but piercing look at life beyond the glass ceiling, it works just fine.
The It Girl Wears Prada
You remember Lauren Weisberger, right? She's the one who, newly hatched from Cornell University, went to work for fashion goddess Anna Wintour at Vogue, then turned the slave-shop experience into the fictionalized tell-all The Devil Wears Prada. After getting roundly spanked by the critics, the book spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list, and no less than Meryl Streep will play the Wintour character in the upcoming film version.
In her follow-up novel, Everyone Worth Knowing (Simon & Schuster, $23.95), Weisberger takes a whack at another layer of Manhattan's showier, shallower side: the beautiful people who rule the city's professional party circuit. Bette Robinson is her 27-year-old heroine, the daughter of two hippies whose attempts at rebellion have landed her in a cubicle at a Manhattan investment bank. As the book begins, she quits without forethought and gets a job working as an event planner with the most elite public relations firm in NYC.
Let's just say this isn't your typical Beltway gig. Primary duties include looking hot, clubbing and canoodling with society types who make Page Six so you can, too. Bette's crunchy background and new It Girl persona collide, handsome sensitive guy appears, and you fill in the rest.
Everyone Worth Knowing runs on the same track as Weisberger's first book: A "regular girl" enters the fun house and is tempted by couture clothes, couture friends and high-profile cads, all while being appealingly incredulous, sloppy and sarcastic. The worst thing that can be said about Book Two is probably also the best thing: more of the same.
Lake Wobegon Meets Stepford
It's clear from page one of The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives (Dutton, $23.95) that Sarah Strohmeyer -- author of the Bubbles Yablonsky mystery series, about a beautician-turned-investigative reporter -- aims to be the chick-lit Carl Hiassen: "Like most Hunting Hills wives, [Marti] had performed every miracle possible to attain the illusion of being twenty-two. This included a daily application of funky smelling, outrageously expensive anti-wrinkle cream, the secret ingredient of which happened to be cloned baby foreskin. The foreskin element bothered Marti more than the price ($150 per jar) and she would never have touched the stuff except that it really, really worked. She and her friends agreed: sometimes you just have to make sacrifices."
Welcome to Hunting Hills, Ohio, an enclave of Stepford-esque perfection whose "one teeny, tiny drawback" is that it is a suburb of Cleveland. It's also a "vapid hell hole," if the novel's leading man is to be believed -- a place where "everyone was thin and tan and exceedingly happy," where adultery doesn't count as long as it's committed with someone in your own social set. Think Lake Wobegon with good highlights, poor morals and a boob job.
The story rests lightly on the shoulders of Marti, a forty-something socialite whose husband may or may not still live at home (she's not sure), Claire Stark, a big-legged journalist who has returned from Prague a newlywed, and . . . oh, plot-schmot, why bother to summarize? It's silly, silly, silly, but extremely funny. Settle down with a glass of pinot grigio ("the Hunting Hills white wine of choice due to its lower calorie content and reduced hangover potential") and prepare to forget your cares. *
Claudia Deane is assistant polling director and a staff writer for The Washington Post.