"Summer and the City," by Candace Bushnell. Published by HarperCollins, Balzer & Bray. 409 pages. $18.99.
For women of a certain age, Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex and the City pals are surrogate friends -- lovable yet flawed characters who've collectively experienced the many and messy permutations of modern-day urban romance.
Other than reruns and the occasional movie, fans of Candace Bushnell's bestselling book or, more likely, its popular HBO TV spinoff, haven't had a lot of options for keeping up their fictional friendships with Sam (and her revolving door of a bed), Miranda (with her commitment issues), Charlotte (and her Park Avenue lifestyle), and, of course, Carrie, her newspaper column, and Mr. Big.
For those fans, Summer and the City will be a welcome visit from long-lost friends. The novel is the follow-up to 2010's The Carrie Diaries, Bushnell's Sex and the City young-adult prequel that took place during Carrie's senior year in high school.
Unlike the YA series kickoff, which centered solely on Carrie and her dating, drinking, and smoking in the small Connecticut suburb of Castlebury, Summer and the City follows the 17-year-old's move to New York City to attend a writing workshop and her introductions to the women who will become her very best friends.
Samantha, it turns out, is the cousin of one of Carrie's friends. Somehow, Samantha has been charged with introducing Carrie to the city, which she does in grand style, taking her to a fabulous party attended by the rich and famous on her first night in town.
Sam is dressed in a sexy green Lycra shift, while Carrie wears "a navy blue gabardine jacket with matching culottes that I'd actually considered chic a few hours ago," she writes on the opening page of a breezy book penned from her point of view and with the youthful exuberance of a New York City newbie.
The hot-pink clutch-purse cover art already indicates this series has a girly, fashionista sensibility. It's just a retro sensibility, since the book takes place in the 1980s.
Rather than Manolo Blahnik stilettos, Carrie wears borrowed Fiorucci boots. Instead of Prada dresses, she dons medical scrubs and kimonos she's found at thrift stores. She listens to Elvis Costello and the Police and writes on a typewriter.
As the book opens, Carrie dreams of being a writer but has yet to land her first byline. New York is merely the location of a writing workshop , a summer pit stop on her way to Brown University. Still, even though her purse is stolen just after her arrival in the city, Carrie knows she never wants to leave.
Miranda enters Carrie's life after she finds Carrie's purse in the trash and calls the number on her address book. When the two meet, Miranda is picketing against pornography in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, wearing construction boots, overalls, and a purple T-shirt.
As teens and early twentysomethings, Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha are all unevolved versions of the characters they later become.
Their experiences in Summer and the City provide an intriguing glimpse into the situations that transform Carrie into the famous writer of a sex column, Miranda into the tell-it-like-it-is lawyer, and Samantha into a sex addict. Charlotte enters the book only in the final chapter, doing so in characteristic Charlotte fashion. She's flipping through the pages of Brides magazine in the first-class cabin of the train, headed to New York and a boyfriend who works on Wall Street.
"Guy troubles, along with clothing and body parts, are a major source of bonding amongst women," Carrie notes halfway into the book. That philosophy is also a formula that works incredibly well for Bushnell. Summer and the City is Grade-A chick lit from one of its masters.
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