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Lena Dunham really is the voice of my generation — for better or worse -

Stashed in: Women, Young Americans, HBO

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Although the show’s story lines don’t echo the plot of The Group, its first season finale inverts the novel’s first chapter, copying the impromptu trip the group takes to Coney Island following group member Kay Strong’s wedding – except in Girls, after Jessa’s surprise wedding to Thomas-John, it’s not the group, but the Girl that ends up in Coney Island, as Hannah sits on the beach alone, digesting a bad breakup between mouthfuls of wedding cake. Flashes of McCarthy’s characters also appear in Dunham’s: Shoshanna (“the least virgin-y virgin”) exhibits a similar resolve to her prim predecessor, Dottie Renfrew, in losing her virginity; Marnie’s high maintenance is reminiscent of Helena Davison’s punctiliousness; Jessa’s effortless allure smacks of Elinor “Lakey” Eastlake, the group’s most experienced and well-travelled member; and Hannah, ever fluctuating in temperament, is perhaps a crazy salad of all McCarthy’s girls.

McCarthy’s classic also inspired Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City (1997), a collection of essays drawing upon her sex column in the Observer. In Bushnell’s introduction to the reissued edition of The Group in 2009, she wrote of her mother giving her the novel at seventeen, and her editor later urging her to revisit it at thirty-five as she was working on SATC. Reading Bushnell’s writing on McCarthy, I’m easily reminded of Dunham. Where Bushnell admires “McCarthy’s determination to embrace life as it really was as opposed to how one might wish it were,” we either respect or repudiate Dunham on the same terms. Just as, in Bushnell’s words, “McCarthy doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to either her plots or her characters,” neither does Dunham. Indeed, like those “who desire ‘likeable characters’ in their fiction above all else,” and are “disturbed to find that every one of [McCarthy’s] characters is flawed,” those who seek agreeable figures on television will be disheartened by Girls.

Yet the show’s endeavor to tell the truth about the milieu it depicts is arguably the most valuable heirloom The Group has bequeathed to Girls. Though often unlikeable, the characters of McCarthy’s novel and Dunham’s show are also exceedingly rich and multidimensional, portrayed not as they ought to be, but as they’re becoming. By giving us imperfect characters who threaten to be as human as we are, McCarthy and Dunham discard the curated versions of women that pop culture likes to show us, upholding not a mirror but a magnifying glass to their respective generations in order to learn more about them.

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