Updated: Sep 21
A intriguing and satisfying story of an iconic hotel, female friendships and a dark era of our political history.
Hazel Ripley first meets actress, Maxine Mead on a USO Tour in Naples, Italy. It was 1945 and the start of a lifelong friendship arising from the bonds of shared heartbreak and devastation inevitable in wartime.
After the war, Maxine heads to Hollywood and Hazel returns to New York City to pursue a career as a playwright. Having heard about the history of the Chelsea from Maxine during their USO days, Hazel decides a move to the Chelsea Hotel might be just what she needs. She soon meets Lavinia Smarts the well-connected grand dame of the Chelsea, who offers to read Hazel’s play. With help from Lavinia, Hazel’s play is on the brink of hitting Broadway.
Maxine shows up fresh from Hollywood and is immediately cast as the lead in Hazel’s play. The two soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting a show on Broadway is not the production, but the politics. Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for communists, and those in the entertainment industry are in his crosshairs. Actors, writers and producers are all dragged in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and pressured to name names of suspected Communist.
But it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer. Under immense pressure they grapple with the terrible consequences, affecting their livelihood, their friendship, and their freedom.
Author Fiona Davis has carefully crafted a well-researched story of dreams and heartbreak. The book, like her others, is set in a historic and iconic New York landmark. The redbrick Chelsea Hotel on Twenty-Third Street is a handsome mix of Victoria Gothic and Queen Anne style. The atmospheric and eccentric hotel, home to artists, poets and actors, becomes a vital character in the novel. The majority of the story takes place in the 1950’s and is alternately told from both Maxine and Hazel’s point of view.
The writing is absorbing and Davis captures your attention with the emotional bonds between Maxine and Hazel as well as their grudges, lies and jealousies. She effortlessly blends the hotel, the characters and the politics of the time into a interesting and satisfying story.
THE CHELSEA GIRLS evokes the emotions of the era and weaves a cinematic tale which could have been ripped from the headlines of the day. Davis’ meticulous research included interviewing a 98-year old actress, who shared stories with her about the USO, WWII, and the injustice of the blacklisting and persecution of the McCarthy era. Fans of historical fiction and strong independent women characters will appreciate this multilayered story.
Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Published December 8, 2020