Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The fun city girls

You know, I used to be a fun city girl, whistling for taxis, dancing on bars, throwing my hat triumphantly in the air in the middle of busy intersections. But just judging this book by its cover—and how can you do otherwise?—I might as well have been the pitiful hausfrau I am now compared to these chicks:

Stephanie had been the Mayor's wife, until she cut out to start the most fanatical of all Women's Lib groups—B.I.T.C.H.
Sabrina had been his mistress, until certain ground rules of politics made him ditch her.
Michele's latest heart-throb was a black militant who taught her that all was fair in love and class war.
Irene had an overwhelming passion to be "in" where the red-hot action was.
When this quartet of crazy ladies ganged up on one poor man, there was going to be a bang heard 'round the world!
*This novel is rated "R"—for riotous, ribald and deliciously readable every scandalous page of the way.
I made a valiant effort to read this book, but the staccato prose and groovy slang defeated me. What I took away from a quick skim is that the titular Fun City Girls are reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's The Group or of the book-publishing chippies in Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything. Full of old-is-new fashion references (Cacharel, Sonia Rykiel) and amylnitrate-fueled sex this book is. "Deliciously readable" it is not:

They were Man and Woman, stripped naked of phony cultural restrictions and creepy inhibitions. They were free. Adam and Eve in the primeval state.

Set in the magazine industry in the early 70s, The Fun City Girls is dedicated to erstwhile NYC mayor John Lindsay, and rated a blurb from longtime New York magazine food critic Gael Green ("Delcious!" she pithily, allegedly proclaimed.) Since "the poor man" these fun city girls gang up on happens to be the mayor of New York, I'm trying to imagine a similarly tawdry roman a clef inspired by Bloomberg and I'm coming up empty...(how about you?). This book has left few traces on the internets that I could find—a flickr set here, a $5 copy on ebay there—so I don't think it made a big splash back in the day. Too bad. I really wanted it to be better, especially given the magazine angle that's so dear to my heart. Striving freelancer Irene wants to transform Modern Woman from "a manual of sewing hints and casserole recipes...into an exciting, informed magazine for today's exciting, informed modern woman."

!!!The editor of Modern Woman. The youngest editor of a major magazine in the United States. Maybe the world. No more the uncertainties of free-lance assignments. No more tedious rewrites. No more fights about having her more controversial articles printed by chicken editors. She'd be the editor! She'd have the power! She could finally do what she always wanted: change the world!!!

Aww, once upon a time a magazine editor wasn't just a romantic-comedy excuse for Jennifer Garner or Kate Hudson to wear Manolos and bark orders—it held the promise of changing the world. And well, before I get too jaded about that notion, let's consider Gloria Steinem and all the radical womyn behind the founding of Ms. magazine, the subject of an entertaining oral history in New York magazine. Ms. was launched in 1971, the year before The Fun City Girls was published—taken in that context, I should probably cut it a little more slack.

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