Perennial Broadway understudy Hazel Ripley and center-stage bombshell Maxine Mead formed a close bond as performers touring with the USO during World War ll. Now that they’ve been home for five years, can their friendship survive the McCarthy-era witch hunt for Communists in show business?
Davis (The Masterpiece, 2018, etc.) has built her brand crafting historical fiction set at New York landmarks like the Barbizon Hotel, the Dakota apartment building, and Grand Central Terminal. Now readers are taken behind the doors of the storied Chelsea Hotel, a creative oasis for artists and freethinkers, as Hazel and Maxine try to navigate the Broadway theater scene. While Hazel has never enjoyed success onstage, she discovers a talent for playwriting and directing. Her career is off to a promising start, especially since bestie Maxine has agreed to use her star power as a box office draw for Hazel’s show. Their drama unfolds offstage when both women are named on a list of Communist sympathizers and must testify about suspected anti-American activities. With a high-stakes storyline that should be tension-filled, the novel unfortunately features prose that is expository and flat. Maxine’s diary confessionals fail to give any insight into her inner life and seem only to serve as information downloads. Even revelations that should shock evoke a tepid response, probably because the buildup has been so noncompelling. Thankfully, Hazel’s relationships—with everyone from her mother to a private investigator working in tandem with the FBI—are more engaging and complex. Notably absent from the cast list, though, is the Chelsea Hotel itself. In Davis’ previous novels, the setting plays an integral role in the storyline. Here, though, the sparse descriptions of the site seem to be almost an afterthought. Hazel and Maxine could have been living at a Holiday Inn and it would have had no effect on the telling.
A forced effort to leverage interest around the legendary Chelsea Hotel, this novel is a miss.