I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Fiona Davis is a best-selling author of several novels. She lives in New York City. She graduated from the College of William and Mary and Columbia Journalism School. The Chelsea Girls is her fourth novel.
The name “Chelsea Girls” refers to the “Hotel Chelsea” in New York. Hazel Ripley is an aspiring actress, who has landed a job for the USO. The story begins in 1945 Naples, Italy. Davis writes, “She hated Maxine Mead, and Italy, on first sight. // When Hazel had first auditioned for the USO tour, back in New York, she imagined arriving abroad and gingerly stepping off a plane to a cheering group of GIs. The stage would be a grand opera house or something similarly picturesque, like what she’d seen in the newsreels of Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope entertaining the troops. Hazel would be sure to call them men, not boys, as the USO Actors’ Handbook advised. After all, many of them had been fighting for four years now. They deserved respect as well as some wholesome entertainment, a respite from the fighting” (5). Her first view of Naples was a disappointment. She learned, “Naples was the most bombed city in Italy” (6).
A soldier driving a jeep called her name. Her audience would turn out to be, quote “men trudging along the side of the road in the same direction, smoking cigarettes.” Fiona wrote, “A show. Good. She’d have a chance to watch the other actors. In New York, she’d been given the script for Blithe Spirit, which had been a big hit on Broadway four years earlier, along with instructions to learn the maid’s role, and she’d managed to memorize some of the lines during the flight. // The lines were the easy part for Hazel, as she’d been a serial understudy for the past few years.
Hazel hoped, when she first auditioned for the USO, to be able to break out of her understudy rut and finally act on stage in a real performance. This was her chance to try something new, so that when she returned to New York, she’d be taken seriously as a major actress, not just a backup to be called upon when the leading lady got the flu” (7).
Fiona writes, “‘Have you heard the news?” // [Her friend] Betty-Lou burst into the tent, brimming with excitement. Hazel and I exchanged looks. Neither of us felt like venturing out that day, not after seeing Paul so wretched. At least Hazel’s script for her ‘American Hero’ idea impressed Colonel Peterson to no end, which meant we could keep going back. The subject was a sweet kid from Kansas who had a girl back home, can’t wait to see her, aw shucks, happy to be righting Hitler’s wrongs in the meantime” (40).
Fiona Davis has written a passably good story of a young actress trying to break into show business. The Chelsea Girls is a fun story for all lovers of “Chick Lit.” 4 Stars
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!