New York Candace Bushnell has traded in her cosmos for Cristal, and swapped the bedroom for the boardroom.
In her new novel, the "Sex and the City" author presents the swanky, jet-setting lives of three super-successful 40-something New York women at the white-hot peak of their careers.
There's fashion designer Victory Ford, who heads her own global conglomerate. There's movie executive Wendy Healy, clawing her way to the top of a Miramax-like corporation. And finally, magazine editor Nico O'Neilly, who is close to becoming the first female CEO of her multinational parent.
Mr. Big? Not here. These women are Ms. Bigs.
"Women with money and women in power are two uncomfortable ideas in our society," Bushnell says during an interview at what seems a very Carrie Bradshaw location: Poolside atop the roof deck of Soho House, a private club and hotel in the ultrachic Meatpacking District (where Samantha Jones had an apartment).
"We're comfortable with movie stars having money. We're comfortable with a woman marrying a rich guy and having money. We're not so comfortable with a woman independently working in business and making a lot of money," she says.
Bushnell began crafting "Lipstick Jungle" after watching clumps of professional women share intimacies and lunch at the same swanky Manhattan restaurants that were once the bastions only of pinstriped men.
"These are women who've been working for 20 years and now they're becoming really successful in their 40s. They have a different kind of outlook on life, a different spirit," she says.
"These aren't women who are competing with each other. They're woman who are part of a club, and certainly a club that welcomes new members. It's something I've noticed about New York for a long time but didn't really pinpoint until now."
Bushnell's latest characters are certainly not the man-obsessed foursome we fell in love with in the pages of "Sex and the City." They're all grown up, hungry for success - and don't need any man. Hear them roar.
As one character asks: "How could a woman really be content unless she knew that she'd lived up to her true potential, or at least given it her best shot?" Another concludes: "Success and self-actualization was what really made women glow - they shone with the fullness of life."
Of course, this being Bushnell, there's still plenty of glitz. Her characters wear Jimmy Choo slingbacks and Baume & Mercier diamond watches, they use black American Express cards and go cigarette boating in the Bahamas.
Two of the trio are married with kids, though one has a steamy affair with an underwear model and the other's union is a lackluster affair. The sole single character is being wooed - poorly - by a Ron Perelman-like billionaire.
Count Vogue contributing editor Joan Juliet Buck among the admirers of Bushnell's book. "She's really clever and subversive," Buck says. "It's very difficult to describe glittery people, and she does it very well."
Bushnell uses her characters to plumb familiar ground - female bonding and sex, of course - but also some new territory: How do women act at the top? Do women have to sacrifice their careers for home life? Should they?
"I think what I'm really trying to say is people should do what works best for them and shouldn't be constrained by gender. If there are women who want to go out and work and be the breadwinner, that's great," she says.
"It's really about having a passion for what you do and about having some control and direction over your life. It's really about being a CEO of your own life. God, that sounds really cliched."
Women don't need men to provide "self-esteem, self-worth, a sense of purpose," she says. "If I were a man, and a woman was looking at me for those things, it's too much pressure. No wonder men freak out. It's too much pressure."