The Chelsea Girls

Written by Fiona Davis
Review by Elicia Parkinson

Hazel lands in Naples, Italy in 1945 as the newest member of the USO tour. She hopes to follow her family onto the stage, like her beloved brother, Ben, killed in action, did before her. She meets the red-haired and fiery Maxine Mead, another member of the troupe, but they get off on the wrong foot entirely. It isn’t until the actions of a couple of young boys that the women are brought closer together.

Five years later, the war has ended, and Hazel finds herself outside the illustrious Chelsea Hotel in New York City. When Maxine suddenly reappears in Hazel’s life, their friendship strengthens as Hazel works towards getting the play she has been working on in secret onto the stage. The arts community is rocked in 1950 when the FBI investigates anyone who may have ties, however tenuous, to Communism. Political strains weave throughout this story, as well as the deep bonds of sisterhood between two women who strive to succeed despite all the obstacles that come their way.

While the story begins slowly in Naples, it picks up considerably once Hazel arrives at the Chelsea Hotel. Davis’s writing is rich in detail, enhanced by her quality research into the art scene and milieu of the building in the early 1950s, as well as the witch-trial events of McCarthyism. She does not shy away from some of the terrible repercussions that came with the forceful interrogations by the House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s also the touching story of the complicated female friendship as the women try to navigate love, trust, and their own haunting memories.