Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel.  Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group.  July, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781524744588.

The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan has a long history of being home for numerous famous writers, playwrights, authors, and artists of varying kinds.  After serving in the USO in Europe during WWII, Hazel Riley and Maxine Mead are staying there while preparations are ongoing for the opening of Hazel’s play Wartime Sonata.  It’s a play about the fierce loyalty and dedication of American soldiers during WWII.  Hazel has discovered she may not be a talented actress Like Maxine but Hazel definitely has a gift for writing and producing plays.  Maxine has become famous as a gorgeous and talented actress but her life is beleaguered by her boyfriend Arthur, someone who floats between being a great lover and abusive destroyer.  It’s Hazel who protects Maxine in her darkest moments and mistakes. 

However, all of this is about to be drastically changed with Senator Joe McCarthy’s program to out all Communist card-holders or supporters.  The FBI are suddenly following Hazel and many of the actors in her world.  Eventually Maxine mistakenly gives Hazel’s name to an FBI agent as just an associate of the Communist party years ago, but it’s enough to do irreparable damage!  Their friendship is tarnished forever.  Will it be possible to save Hazel’s brilliant play and career?

Fiona Davis depicts this time with details that elicit the same fear in the reader that these artists endured as investigations, interviews, and black lists moved forward relentlessly condemning those associated with a Communist association.  The resulting taint left a residual negativity that ruined careers, lives and relationships with no possibility of escape.  This is not one of America’s finest hours and Fiona Davis depicts the atmosphere and facts with stunning accuracy, right up to the tragically stunning end.  Hazel will endure but will never be the same again!

Well-told historical fiction by a highly skilled author that is a must read! 

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