The Chelsea Girls
By Fiona Davis
Author Website: fionadavis(.)net
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
From Fiona Davis, the nationally bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address, the bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about the twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women’s lives.
From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.
Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel. (Goodreads)
The Chelsea Girls is the first book I have read that was written by Fiona Davis. It will by no means be my last ☺.
The iconic Chelsea Hotel is a haven for artists, musicians, writers, and actors, and is the backdrop for this engaging fictional story of friendship in the political times of McCarthyism. Hazel Riley and Maxine Mead meet overseas as USO entertainers during 1945. Their friendship continues on through the 1960’s. Each has their own path – one becomes a famous movie star and the other a playwright. At various times, both have lived in the Chelsea Hotel.
I really enjoyed how the hotel seemed to be an actual character at times during the telling of this tale. I love the description given in the prologue – I truly believe that is what drew me in and kept me reading – I wanted to find out the stories of all the ghosts:
“In the dead of night, during the dreary month of March, the Chelsea Hotel is a quiet place. The only sound that cuts through the silence is the squeal of a police siren, and that fades fast. Thick walls keep out the everyday noises of one’s neighbors: the muffled swears after walking into a bedpost with a barefoot, or the generous moans of lovemaking. The ghosts of the Chelsea hide in the cement-filled brick walls during the day, and glide out during the violet hours to keep watch.”
A picture of the actual Chelsea Hotel – such a majestic looking building! The telling of the story made the hotel have a persona of its own.
The tale depicts the trials and tribulations that artists endured during this era as a result of the Cold War, but specifically the lives of Hazel and Maxine. Hazel and Maxine meet when Hazel gets to Naples, Italy in early 1945 to perform for the troops overseas. Hazel literally arrives ten minutes before show time and is briefly instructed on what to do by Miss Mead (Maxine). Not an auspicious beginning. However, after performing together for some time a bond is built between the two … Thus a friendship is born.
Once back in the states, Maxine’s career slowly takes off as an actress, especially after she moved to Hollywood. Hazel’s career is slow to take off so her career morphs from being an actress to a playwright. During this time, trying to get Hazel’s work on Broadway is fraught with many trials and tribulations. Hazel and Maxine once again cross paths when Maxine comes to New York for work and stays in the Chelsea Hotel.
I found the storyline involving Hazel’s family quite thought provoking and interesting. The storyline certainly demonstrated how one action (attending one rally), innocent as it may have been, can have such dire consequences.
I found the story was wrapped up nicely and I felt satisfied with the read once I got to the end of the book. The characters were well rounded and thought out with interesting life stories. I look forward to reading more books written by Fiona Davis.