Pros: Deliciously naughty glimpse into New York high society.
Cons: Unlikeable characters and bad ending.
***Warning: there are a few issues I discuss that could be considered spoilers. If you don't want a bit about the ending given away, skip this review!
I remember many a summer in my youth when I thought reading Jackie Collins novels was the most scandalous thing in the world. I'd surreptitiously carry around my copy of Hollywood Wives, hoping my Dad wouldn't read the back cover. Back then, I didn't have much of a clue about a lot of the dirty stuff Ms. Collins wrote about, but it sure did make me feel grown up. I haven't picked up a Jackie Collins book in years, but when I started reading Candace Bushnell's Trading Up, I was instantly transported back to the world of sleeping around, backstabbing and the 'in' crowd that Collins wrote so well about. Well, Bushnell isn't half bad at it, either, which isn't surprising since this is the same woman who wrote Sex and the City, which is now a very successful series on HBO.
Trading Up tells the story of Janey Wilcox, an ambitious blonde who has finally made her mark on the fashion industry by becoming a Victoria's Secret model. Now that she's semi-famous, she thinks she can leave behind the world of sleeping with rich men to get ahead, but her reputation precedes her and she still doesn't get the respect she thinks she deserves. Not about to give up, Janey finds herself a high-class best friend and decides to marry a rich older man who just happens to be an executive at a movie company. But Janey still isn't satisfied...she'll do anything it takes, including stabbing her 'friends' in the back and lying to her husband, to get what she wants.
Okay, so the concept isn't the most original in the world and it's been done a hundred times (at least a few of those times by the afore-mentioned Collins). But Bushnell does it well. Her insights about the upper class of Manhattan are biting, bitter and come across as quite real (of course, I never have been a part of New York's upper class so I suppose I'll never know, but it did have the ring of authenticity). Each character is more naughty and heartless than the next and it's fun watching them get put in their place. Unfortunately, the naughtiest and most heartless of the bunch, our 'heroine' Janey, ends up on top and never gets put in her place like she should. Bushnell seems to think she's made Janey into a sympathetic character who we can root for, but that's certainly not how she came across to me. Janey was a user and didn't care about anyone but herself (this was especially obvious when she interacted with her sister, Patty, who was one of the only decent characters in the book). I desperately wanted to see her crushed like the soulless social climber she was and felt cheated when she didn't.
Another part of the book that I wasn't so sure about was that there is a novel featured (that Janey wants to make into a movie) that sounds suspiciously like Franzen's The Corrections. It's called The Embarrassments and much of how it's described makes it sound like Franzen's bestseller. I didn't know if Bushnell was trying to parody The Corrections, if she just wasn't creative enough to come up with an original novel concept or if I was imagining the whole thing.
The third strike against this book is the ending. Bushnell, in a transparent effort at making people read her next book, introduces a whole new cast of characters in the final 20 pages. It makes the book seem incomplete and unresolved.
Despite these flaws, Trading Up is still a fun, raunchy book that makes you happy you're not rich and famous (and really, doesn't there need to be more things out there that make you glad you're not rich and famous?) Even if you've never read any Jackie Collins books or watched Sex and the City, you should give Trading Up a read. After reading about the despicable Janey Wilcox, you'll feel better about yourself if nothing else.
3 1/2 stars, rounded up to 4
**Note: I believe this is the second book featuring Janey Wilcox, the first being 4 Blondes (which I have not read). You might want to check that book out before you try this one if you want to get the complete picture.