Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Carrie Diaries

My first Project 84 review was a glowing, gushing tale of how much I related to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

This post will not be a proper sequel.

With that in mind, Book 2 of Project 84 is:

The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries
by Candace Bushnell

As I said in my last post, I selected these first two novels on purpose. For my second book, I wanted to choose something fun, young, and which might fall into the “mindless” category. I wanted to demonstrate what I mean when I say “fun book”, and give an idea of what I’ll be doing throughout the year on this blog.

I probably could have chosen better.

For those unaware of The Carrie Diaries (it’s also currently a show on the CW), the book is a prequel, of sorts, to Sex and the City. The book follows Carrie Bradshaw and some of her non-SATC related friends through their senior year of high school in the 1980s. Drama ensues. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to rehash too much of the plot from this book…girls have sex, boyfriends are stolen, college acceptances are received, the words “New York” are used like a mantra. It’s exactly what you would expect a prequel to SATC to be.

Except for maybe one thing: it’s just not very good.
I want to make it very clear that I’m no elitist when it comes to literature. I liked the Twilight books and The Hunger Games, I know my way around the young adult section of the library, and my favorite series I read last year was Vampire Academy.  I don’t think I’m too good for young adult fiction. In fact, I think quite a bit of YA contains solid writing and entertaining plots.

But I still don’t think The Carrie Diaries was very good. I’m not going to break down metaphor, or emotional resonance, or overuse of adverbs (I hate adverb-use in fiction…I have a feeling this is going to come up often in this blog). Bushnell is guilty of bad writing, but that isn’t anywhere near my biggest complaint with the book.

My first major issue centers on characterization. When I read a book called The Carrie Diaries, I expect, if nothing else, to sympathize with one character: Carrie. Quite the contrary, I didn’t sympathize with any character in this book. I find Carrie insipid, and hyperbolic to an unnecessary degree. My perfect examples come from her inner monologue throughout the book:

”If I hear one more person mention his name, I’m going to shoot myself.” – Page 17
“ ‘Has Peter done it before?’ If he has, I’m going to shoot myself.” – Page 85
“If something happened and I lost Sebastian, I’d die.” – Page 153
“What if Sebastian finds out about the date with George and breaks up with me? I’ll kill my father. I really will.” – Page 154

Who thinks like that? I will accept that people talk like that, and often, especially teenage girls. Hell, I have been guilty of hyperbolic rhetoric in my day. But that isn’t an inner monologue. Who thinks in sarcasm? It turned me off enough that I just couldn’t get behind Carrie. It just didn’t seem real to me, which is the primary goal of characterization. I should feel something.

I couldn’t get myself to care about anyone in The Carrie Diaries. I take notes while I’m reading for these blog posts, and at one point I actually wrote:

Lali is a DOUCHE, but everyone in this book is terrible. – Lana’s Notes on TCD

The only central theme that I could find in the novel had to do with feminism. Early in the book, Carrie talks about an event from her past where she met a feminist writer that her mother loved and the writer turned out to be cruel. The writer judged other women for their life choices and not being the right kind of feminist, and Carrie refers back to that event numerous times, culminating in the only interesting plot event in the book:

Carrie goes to meet her new boyfriend’s aunt, and the aunt turns out to be the writer from earlier in the book. GASP! Intrigue!

Don’t worry, it doesn’t lead to anything interesting.

I have a theory about this book. The theory is not based on any sort of fact, or quotes, or Bushnell interviews – just on my own interpretation. I think this book is Bushnell’s reaction to anti-feminist accusations about Sex and The City. It was written in 2010, so the time frame is right, and I know there were women (and likely many men) who viewed SATC as a sort of “women are sex objects” show. Now, I watched and enjoyed SATC, and I would label myself a feminist, and I didn’t view the show that way at all. I saw SATC as women doing exactlywhat they wanted to do, and there is something empowering about that.

However, the theory is that Bushnell wanted to respond to that characterization of her work. So she used The Carrie Diaries to say: “Look, being a feminist isn’t about being hateful of other women. We should accept and love each other for being able to make our own choices, and empowerment is real feminism.” It’s a sentiment I can get behind…

But even if that was her intention - the book is the literary equivalent of Saved by the Bell. Any message it’s trying to send is surface-level, and is bogged down in mediocre artistic expression.

In conclusion…I didn’t enjoy this book. Can you tell? That being said, it was an easy read, so at least it didn’t waste my time too much. I don’t recommend you pick this one up. Of the 84, this is one I probably should have skipped. Sorry, Candace Bushnell – this just wasn’t my thing.


See, I told you the reviews wouldn’t all be so glowing. I’m well into Book 3 at this point – from the “fun books” list – and I can tell you already that the next review will not be this scathing, and also not as glowing as the first.

Next Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Expected posting date: Friday, January 10th)

*All annotations and page numbers refer to this version of The Carrie Diaries, published by Balzer + Bray in 2010*

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