I think it was either jomidi’s review of this novel specifically or Caitlin D’s more general review of Fiona Davis’s novels but I ended up downloading The Chelsea Girls a while back. By the time I started reading it, I didn’t quite remember what the overall story line was beyond being set in New York during the mid-20th century and involving female friendships. I was very pleasantly surprised when I realized this wasn’t simply a story about young women navigating life in a big city when women had fewer opportunities.
While the women absolutely confront sexism in their time, it also is set during the McCarthy era and documents the growing unease as the artists in the New York theater community have to worry about accusations of Communist sympathies destroying their careers. Hazel and Maxine originally met as part of a USO theater troupe during World War II. Maxine went off to Hollywood after the war while Hazel returned to theater where she struggled to land small parts. However, Hazel doesn’t care about that – she wants to write a play based on her experiences.
Just as Hazel’s script is starting to get attention, Maxine needs an escape from Hollywood, and reunites with her friend. After one fateful dinner, Hazel finds herself in the role of director of her play with Maxine cast as the main character. The rest of the novel follows the two women as they prepare for opening as McCarthyism casts its dark shadow on the production and the cast as more and more people’s names end up on lists.
I really enjoyed this novel and its exploration of the characters. It’s a good mix of history and friendship with touches of romance. I was quickly hooked, and stayed up much too late reading. It’s always exciting to find a good novel by a “new to you” author with a back catalog because now I have at least three more novels to explore in the near future.