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Home · Articles · News · Books · Let Them Eat Cake
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Let Them Eat Cake

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli - January 19th, 2009
Let Them Eat Cake
New York is abuzz in One Fifth Avenue


By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

One Fifth Avenue
By Candace Bushnell
Hyperion Press
$25.95


Ahh—how I miss the scheming, the sex, the petty jealousies, the back-biting, the shameless snobbery, the hangers-on, and the social climbing, now that Sex and the City, has moved to rerun heaven.
I’m lost without my obsession with $900 Manolo Blahnik shoes, with $1000 Prada boots, and YSL bags at $1399. Take me back, oh Candace Bushnell! Take me back to the time of full-blown collagen lips and plastic noses. I want to feel, once again, how deprived I am because I don’t live in New York City, reside at one of the better addresses, buy clothes more expensive than my first house, and have friends who would drop me at the first hint of a pay cut or a loss of status.
Luckily One Fifth Avenue (Hyperion Press) is out. Candace Bushnell, who wrote the book Sex and the City, from which the TV show sprang, has penned a just-in-the-nick-of time novel about the uber-wealthy with feet of clay; the famous and the infamous. For a moment now I can go back to that place where all is luxury, vice is rampant, and Prada reigns supreme.
In the novel everyone at One Fifth Avenue, one of the best addresses in New York City, has a secret. Some can’t really afford to live there; others can but shouldn’t; others have dark personal flaws. Nobody is happy. Even the one kid in the book harbors a secret that could land him in jail.
So, shall we begin?
The jacket says, “One Fifth Avenue, the Art Deco beauty towering over one of Manhattan’s oldest and most historically hip neighborhoods, is a one-of-a-kind address, the sort of building you have to earn your way into—one way or another.”

$20 MILLION PRICE TAG
The story begins much as Mary Poppins begins, with a big wind coming to town. People are blown off their feet. One old lady dies.
The death of Louise Houghton provides an empty apartment at One Fifth, and the battles for the apartment begin, the $20 million price tag hardly being a blip in the checkbook to the folks vying for this pad. A billionaire (after all we are no longer impressed with mere millions), Paul Rice, and his wife, Annalisa, want the apartment. He will pay anything, bribe anyone, bully anyone, to get what he wants and, therefore, gets it. Well, ‘gets it’ in more ways than one.
The wife, Annalisa Rice is introduced to Billy Litchfield, a Truman Capote bon vivant type. Billy is a friend and who need direction as to how to decorate their homes, whom to invite to parties, what to wear—all of those most pressing human necessities of life.
So Paul and Annalisa Rice move into One Fifth and immediately begin to change the building. He wants air conditioners stuck through the walls. He fills the elegant ballroom with banks of computers and a monstrous fish tank filled with $10,000 (each) fish.
Seems this is where the morality play kicks in: Daring to change what New York society values is the greatest sacrilege to the money worshippers. That he is rude and ill-bred only adds to his outsider-ness. Paul will receive certain comeuppance. All outsiders seem to, except a lovely movie star, whose fame protects her.

EASY WAY OUT
Schiffer Diamond, the movie star, is in love with Philip Oakland, another building occupant and a screen writer. Middle-aged Philip, unfortunately, chooses to have an affair with Lola Fabricant, a much younger southern deb transplant, who has come to New York to become famous as a fashion designer or as an actress, whichever is easier. She finds trading sex for a fancy home and other favors less stressful than holding down an actual job. Since this screen writer, with his apartment at One Fifth, is famous, Lola decides she might as well marry him. But the movie star is in love with him, too.
Considering that the best laid…well, you get the idea.
And then we have Mindy Gooch, president of the condo association, who takes the care of One Fifth to her heart much as someone else might view holy orders. Of course, the awful Paul Rice and Mindy Gooch clash, with reverberations ringing from apartment to apartment. Almost as if cracks were opening in the walls themselves, noises are heard from floor to floor, lives are affected, people die and people change. One Fifth Avenue goes on. The noises are soon gone, peace settles, and the aristocracy continues.
Why does all of this sound like the machinations of the court of Louis XVI? Why does it have the ring of history about it? “Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette famously cried out when told the populous had no bread to eat. That bit of insensitivity tilted France toward revolution and dear Marie toward the guillotine. But wasn’t it during the Great Depression that light comedies and frivolous musicals grew to be popular? Maybe there is something satisfying, after all, to tales of kings and queens and golden touches.
Anyway, for all my posturing, I liked the book. So there.

 
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