Setting the Stage for The Chelsea Girls

“Over the years, the dust of the hotel’s many occupants has spread thinly over the walls, the floors, the mantels, and the hallways, though only a small number remain in spirit. The handrail on the stairs holds the residue of actors and poets, singers and dancers, passed from guest to guest. Great successes and bitter failures, or bitter successes and great failures?”

In 1950s New York, the Chelsea Hotel is known for its beautiful architecture and sweeping staircase but it is also known for all of the eclectic artists that call it home. The hotel’s newest resident, Hazel Riley, is an aspiring playwright and hopes to leave her mark on Broadway.

Hazel Riley first learned of the Chelsea Hotel from her friend, and actress, Maxine Mead, while they were touring with the USO during WWII. Hazel and Maxine are the unlikeliest of friends; Hazel is rather quiet and reserved, while Maxine is a star and she knows it. Both, Maxine and Hazel, are determined to make a name for themselves and they fully intend to use the help of the Chelsea to make their dreams come true.

However, Hazel and Maxine quickly learn that having a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their talent but everything to do with politics; and, everything that they have risked to make their show a success may come tumbling down around them as the McCarthy Era witch hunt is taking Hollywood by storm. It seems that everyone who matters is out to make Hazel and Maxine’s show a disaster and there isn’t anything they can. As the opening night of the show comes barreling towards them, there is more pressure on everyone around them to name names; because that’s all the witch hunt is- forcing people to name other people as communists in order to save themselves.

When forced with an unthinkable decision, Maxine must decide what to do; save her best friend or save her career? The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis follows Hazel and Maxine through the ups and downs of their friendship spanning two decades. It is packed with adventure, glamour, heartbreak and the disastrous impact that the McCarthy era had on the entertainment industry.

I have always thought that Fiona Davis is a talented writer, she has this innate ability to bring to life New York landmarks and transport you back to a time to when those landmarks were full of life and luster. Davis did not let me down with the Chelsea Girls. I was immediately drawn into this novel and couldn’t put it down- seriously, I finished this book in a day and a half. It was beautifully written and I felt as if I were standing beside Hazel and Maxine rooting for them to make their mark on the world.           

I also think that the premise of this story is important for people to understand; the McCarthy Era was ruthless. The entertainment industry took a substantial hit, profoundly talented people were forced to give up their futures and lives were lost because of the hunt for communists on American soil. I truly had no idea as to the impact that this had on the industry. Davis managed to tie in real life names into this story and I found myself researching more about who the people were and what ended up happening to them; it was heartbreaking.

I was in awe of how well she told this story. There were character revelations that left me completely surprised and plot twists that broke my heart. I feel that this novel was something deeply important to Fiona Davis and it showed on every page that I read. I absolutely loved the story of The Chelsea Girls and highly recommend that you pick it up to read this summer.               

My sincerest of thanks to Fiona Davis for writing this novel. Also, thank you to NetGalley and Dutton Publishing for the opportunity to read this book prior to its July 30th release. 

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