Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: June 23rd 2015
Killing Monica is Candace Bushnell’s newest novel and in it Pandy Wallis is a struggling writer who hits it big with a female protagonist (Monica) who takes on Manhattan. Soon the book is on its way to becoming a movie and Pandy discovers an unknown actress to play Monica. Both the movie and SondraBeth, the actress, are a success and Pandy finds herself with money and a new best friend in SondraBeth. What follows is non-stop partying fueled by drugs and alcohol paid for by the money streaming into both their pockets. More books and movies follow but as Monica’s life ascends Pandy’s descends. After SondraBeth helps herself to Pandy’s boyfriend the friendship dies and as Pandy finds herself shuttled to the sidelines of the Monica franchise she begins to wonder how much fame is worth.
Killing Monica is at once a departure for Bushnell and more of the same. Unfortunately, the departure part is not a positive one. In previous works her protagonists, while somewhat frivolous were all self-sufficient career women pitted against the younger, voracious social climbers who want their spot at the top. Pandy is the former but Bushnell chooses to surround her with twits who, as she approaches forty, badger her about marriage as the only life worth having, so she ignores her own intuition and beliefs and marries a bad-boy chef who promptly starts using her hard-earned money to fund his restaurants. Bushnell may be writing a parody of celebrity life but unlike her previous books, Killing Monica lacks the killer instinct and knife sharp prose that makes such a novel work. Instead, by the final third of the novel the plot is moving at a pace that is frantic and careens into a crescendo of costume, gangsters, threats, and vaudeville theatrics as Pandy tries to kill off the character that made her famous. It’s the Keystone Cops in high heels—only not funny.
The ‘what to do when your fans love a character so much you can’t write anything else’ concept is an interesting one (hello, Misery) but not new and in Killing Monica there is not enough material to put a twist on an old trope. Instead, it feels like Bushnell is recycling used stories without a new perspective. More importantly, the intelligent slyness, witty dialogue and camaraderie she has utilized so well in the past is nowhere to be found. If Bushnell has found herself hamstrung by the Sex and the City franchise then, I, for one, would be thrilled to see her come back with a new heroine, like Pandy, but one who doesn’t sell out to her friends’ idiotic ideas of what constitutes happiness. As Pandy herself says:
How she wished she could make her friends understand that not being married and not having children was a small price to pay—if, indeed, it even was a price—for the deep self-esteem and self-confidence gained by being a self-made woman.
There is plenty of drama, challenge, and humor to be found in the life of a woman in her forties happy in her own skin, as Bushnell well knows. I’m not looking for a Carrie Bradshaw knock-off, I want the next real thing.