Long before she met Mr. Big, she was a self-conscious 17 year old. Rebecca Dana talks to Candace Bushnell about The Carrie Diaries, the new young-adult novel that follows our heroine through high school.
Long before Carrie Bradshaw became Mrs. Big, traipsing around Abu Dhabi with her gal pals in Sex and the City 2, she was 17-year-old “Bradley,” a boy-crazy high-school kid coming of age in suburban Connecticut.
“Of course I deliberated over whether or not Carrie should remain a virgin,” Bushnell says, “and when I was in the character’s head, it seemed that she just wasn’t ready.”
This portrait comes via The Carrie Diaries, Candace Bushnell’s new novel, a prequel which zooms back in time to the future archetype-defining heroine’s formative years. Aimed at a young-adult readership à la Gossip Girl, the book looks at our lady before she got her Louboutins, when she was just starting on the path to a glamorous New York City adulthood: her first dalliances with writing and sex, her preternatural dancing skills, her nascent feminism.
How did Bradley turn into Carrie? What did she want from life before she wanted everything? The Carrie Diaries is a hot-tub time machine ride back to the early 1980s, to a more innocent age, when high-school seniors weren’t all vampires or sex-crazed maniacs, as they’re depicted in most teen literature today.
“I always felt Carrie had suffered some kind of loss, which makes her understand that the world isn’t perfect, it’s not a fairy tale,” Bushnell says. “She’s developed a grand sense of humor and a keen eye for the absurdities of being human that help her make her way through life.”
It is an exciting moment for fans of this franchise—the millions of women and gay men out there who’ve had to content themselves for the last decade and a half with a character perpetually single and frozen in her thirties. On movie screens this Friday, Carrie makes her debut as a full-blown grownup, married, and contending with recession-era financial constraints. And on the page, we finally get to meet the virginal Carrie, literally pre- Sex.
• Michael Patrick King: Can a Straight Man Love SATC? (“Of course I deliberated over whether or not Carrie should remain a virgin,” Bushnell says, “and when I was in the character’s head, it seemed that she just wasn’t ready. So I had to go with what felt authentic for the character at that place in time.”)
There is a special pleasure in seeing the making-of this iconic character, in tracing her adult quirks and neuroses back to their swim-team and English-class origins. In many respects, the young Carrie reveals greater depth in 400 pages than her grownup self ever has, struggling more directly with the complexities of life when she didn’t have sex, Cosmos, shoe binges, and long brunches with Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte as palliatives for her angst.
The idea to do The Carrie Diaries—aside from the obvious cash-register ka-ching! of introducing a whole new generation to the entire Sex oeuvre and its many spinoff products—came out of Bushnell’s interest in the “specific social, sexual and economic circumstances that forged the Sex and the City women.”
We first met Carrie and her friends in the mid-1990s, when they were struggling to balance work and life as modern women in New York. But Bushnell had a lingering curiosity about the earliest stages of that impulse, which she sees as taking root 15 years prior. “Carrie’s budding interest in feminism, her curiosity about how to conduct herself given the new sexual freedoms, as well as the rejection of male authority are fascinating themes for me,” she says.
Although the adult Bradshaw of the original Sex and the City book and HBO series grew out of first-person columns Bushnell wrote for The New York Observer, the young Carrie bears no resemblance to the author’s high-school years.
“There’s nothing that happens to Carrie in The Carrie Diaries that happened to me, but I did try to capture the universal emotions of being 17 in a suburban high school in the early '80s.”
The next book in the Carrie Diaries series, out next year, follows Carrie through her first summer in New York, and as long as it follows its predecessor onto the bestseller lists, there are surely more prequels to come, carrying the character up to the point of our first glimpse of her, way back when.
And then what? Unless a series of picture books chronicling Carrie’s toddlerhood in the 1970s is on the way, the only stage of her life that remains unplumbed is retirement. What will Carrie be like once she’s an old lady?
“Aw, heck, I don’t know,” Bushnell says. “Ask me again in 20 years.”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.