When I first read Candace Bushnell’s critically reviled new novel, Killing Monica, I was certain the reviews were wrong. What critics saw as a mean-spirited farce about Sex and the City, I saw as daring self-satire — the surreally violent fever dream of a woman struggling with her legacy. At the end of the book (skip ahead if spoilers upset you), “Pandy Wallis” burns off her hair, steals an identity, manipulates a global feminist rally to get revenge on a shitty ex, triggers a literal Champagne riot, and absconds in a burqa. It’s the nightmare you might have after dropping acid and watching Sex and the City: 2 — then falling asleep wondering how Bushnell’s initially brilliant franchise devolved into a hot-pink mess of gal pals singing karaoke to fight oppression in Abu Dhabi. The more critics recoiled at Killing Monica, I thought, the harder Candace Bushnell laughed on her way to the bank.
But then Candace strode into our interview, pantomimed fellatio on a microphone, announced that breakfast makes her feel fat, and insisted that Killing Monica has nothing to do with Sex and the City: “If you really think it’s me and my Sex and the City experiences, you’re just cray-cray.”
Am I cray-cray? Is Bushnell trolling us? How serious is Killing Monica? On the day of the book’s launch, Bushnell talked about success, humor, slutty actors, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and why she no longer dates.
Can you tell me a little about how the idea for this book came about?
It actually came from Philip Roth. I had an idea about a middle-aged woman who leaves the city, and then I thought, Oh, that’s just too boring, I really need to jazz this up. So I was just flipping through my Philip Roth collection and I started reading Zuckerman Unbound again, and I just started laughing. I was like, this is a classic comic conceit. You know, this idea of Frankenstein’s monster, or creating something that becomes bigger in a sense than you are. It becomes out of your control.
How right are people to read your Sex and the City experience into this book? How much is based on that versus fantasy?
I think it’s human nature that we always read books and associate the author with the main character. When Bret Easton Ellis was writing American Psycho, he was like, “So many people think I’m a psycho killer, Candace.” And, no they shouldn’t read anything into it. It’s like, take a chill pill, baby. It’s a great, comic novel. It’s so far out there that if you really think it’s me and my Sex and the City experiences, you’re just cray-cray. You’re crazy. I also think it’s hilarious that people think that I have the life of PJ Wallis when I don’t at all. PJ Wallis is like — she has sex with movie stars and super-famous men. I’m like, that’s not me. But I think it’s funny that—
Wait, you’ve never fucked a movie star? That’s too bad.
No, have you?
No, it’s missing from my checklist, too.
I think they’re pretty easy to have sex with because I’ve heard they kind of have sex with anybody. They just want to get their weenies waxed. Now I’m going to get in trouble for that.
To me, what’s so ballsy about Killing Monica is the fact that you’re sort of inviting the reader to confuse it with reality. No?
No, I’m not doing it like, I dare you to see reality. That’s just not my personality. But I do think that writing a comic novel is ballsy as a woman, because when you’re writing comedy, you exaggerate things for comic effect. There aren’t actually that many funny books written by women.
What books do you think are funny?
God, the last book I read that I thought was funny was maybe … and I’m talking laugh-out-loud funny, not like, Oh, it’s entertaining. Or like, Oh, there’s a little chuckle there. I’m going for big laughs. I’m going for big, cinematic, movie laughs and cinematic scenes. One of the things that’s interesting is how many women are scolding: “How dare you write something like that where you want to kill your own character?” It’s like, Lady, I’m not doing that. But it’s interesting that there are these scolding women out there, like, “How dare you?!”
As one woman once said to me when Sex and the City first came out, “Candace, some women just never want to see other women having any fun.”
There’s this line early on, when Pandy says, of the book she’d rather write instead of another Monica sequel: “I need uncharted territory. I need to be scared.” Does this book scare you? What counts as uncharted territory in your career?
Um. Making music videos? For Killing Monica I’m making a theme song. I wrote it on Garage Band. Now I’m trying to make it sound professional, and that’s the nightmare part. And then I’ve shot quite a bit of video for it.
And I have a line of emoji that are coming out with Killing Monica, and there’s a Killing Monica wine, a rosé. And a line of stationery, from Dempsey & Carroll, will be coming out. The character saying, “I need uncharted territory. I need to be scared” — I love that line. It’s just dramatic, you know?
Can you tell me about your personal life? You’re single now, right?
Do you date?
No, I’m not dating.
It doesn’t make sense to me at 56 to be going out and looking for a man or looking for a relationship. There’s just so many creative things that I spend my time doing, and I don’t really have time for a relationship.
I’ve always been very self-contained. I was always raised not to seek happiness through another person and not to get your self-esteem or your happiness from somebody else. So, to tell you the truth, I am always a little bit confused when women will come up and say that they really want to have a relationship, they’re really looking for a relationship. I don’t feel that way. Wherever I am in my life, I’m going to make the absolute most of it and I’m going to enjoy it.
I think if something happens organically, it’s going to be somebody who’s already in my world, you know? Who’s already in my circle, who’s my age, where our lives dovetail and flow into each other. When I was younger, it was like, I want to find somebody totally different and this and that, and I’m not there.
That’s interesting. When you’re younger, dating is almost a way to see a world outside yourself, to explore. But I imagine once you’re older and know yourself better, your life is more complete.
Yes, it’s like, I’m not looking for a guy to take me out of my life.
Can we talk about the end of the book? I think this is one of the craziest, most plot-twist-y endings, in terms of my shock and surprise at every subsequent event. When you started, did you have that whole thing worked out?
I wanted it to be really, really madcap. And originally, it was so much more surreal, and you know, the book is a bit, it’s experimental for me in that sense and it’s just, I love this idea of explosions and I was thinking a lot about creativity and, you know, the sparks of really applying, in a sense, pressure to the brain in like thinking, and there’s a physical act to that. I got caught up in this idea of transformation and 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the beginning, that big, black rectangle that comes down, and the significance of that and transformation through creativity.
I’m really inspired by screwball comedies and things like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That is my sense of humor, and it’s not a sense of humor that … it’s not for everybody. But it’s my sense of humor. I feel like this book is me.
This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear more, subscribe to New York Magazine’s “Sex Lives” podcast.