Thursday, May 29, 2008

Forlorn in the City

In 1994, around the time Candace Bushnell started writing the "Sex and the City" column that formed the basis for her book and the HBO series Sex and the City, a collection of Caroline Knapp's "Out There" columns from the The Boston Phoenix was published as Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes. Because Knapp evidently mixed fiction with real life, Plume/Penguin evasively characterized her work as "Humor" on the back cover of the book. If so, it's dark humor. Sad humor. Made all the more poignant after reading Knapp's subsequent four books beginning with the outright memoir Drinking: A Love Story (1996), let alone her death from lung cancer at age forty-two in 2002.

Alice K's Guide to Life is divided into a prologue, epilogue, and ten chapters, each further subdivided into smaller bits: The Grown-up Years; Alice K. in Love, Part I: Meeting Elliot M.; How to be a Girl; Alice K. in Love: Meeting Mr. Danger; How to Feel Good about Yourself; Alice K. in Love, Part III: Chaos; How to Live in the Female Body; Alice K. in Love, Part IV: Cruel Realities; Life in the Office; Alice K. in Love, Part V: Resolution (Maybe).

This all may seem superficially to fall under another category besides Humor -- Chick Lit. But it's far sadder and grittier, more like Mary Tyler Moore in Purgatory. In other words, it's more like an often grim reality for many reflective working women (in this case an editor/writer) living in the city.

Further back, there's another Mary-Tyler-Moore-in-purgatory, and that would be the protagonist in Gail Parent's Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York (1972). If this feels familiar, that's because Ms. Parent actually worked on episodes of Mary Tyler Moore and its spin off, Rhoda. (Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda, later appeared in Sex and the City, tying everything together very nicely). For an earlier post on the novel, please see:

Today's Rune: Harvest.


Charles Gramlich said...

Lung cancer at 42. Man that's young.

Lana Gramlich said...

I've never watched "Sex in the City," as it just seems like the usual, Orwellian pablum.

Sidney said...

I had forgotten Shelia Levine. You used to see that book everywhere when I was a kid.

When I hear of a writer who's died young, and 42 is YOUNG, it always saddens me even as it reminds me to be thankful.