Her face brightens when she sees you. She hugs you first, awkwardly, because of her large belly, which lightly presses up against you. How can your friend have a child? You used to get drunk with her. Crashed fraternity parties. Crawled out of your second-floor freshman dorm to buy pot and wait for the cookie guy at the front of the building. She can't be someone's mother. You can't be thirty-five. When you look in the mirror, on a good day, you still see a twenty-three-year-old. An age when it was okay to be single. Okay to not have the best job in the world. -- Based on Availability by Alix Strauss
The Four Seasons is one of the luxury places that evokes images of Beautiful People - good looking, wealthy, glamorous. Based on Availability is an unusual novel that tells the stories of seemingly unconnected women who pass through Manhattan's Four Seasons Hotel. Here are some of the characters that you meet:
- Morgan, the hotel manager, is the dominant character in the novel who is somehow linked to many of the main characters. Glamorous, efficient, and upwardly mobile, few people are aware that Morgan is haunted by the childhood death of her older sister and the extent to which this impacts her every day life. As the manager of the Four Seasons, Morgan is often asked to comp or discount meals, rooms, drinks and to fix all sorts of emergencies. She has her own risky ways of handling the disappointments and stresses of her personal life. But what she really wants is a close female friend, someone to be as close as a sister;
- Trish is the daughter of celebrity parents: a writer and an artist. Her parents have been busy with their careers and social lives all her life. The breakup with her boyfriend hit her hard, but Trish is most upset about the recent changes to her best friend Olive. Trish and Olive had been as close as sisters for as long as they could remember. But now that Olive has found love and lost close to fifty pounds, and has developed a taste for dangerous diversions;
- Louise, an old rock star who once partied with Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Now, her glamorous friend in PR is helping Louise "dry out" and she's opting for the Four Seasons because of the staff's discretion and personal service;
- Franny is a Southern girl and a recent transplant to Manhattan. Franny's job means that she hovers on the fringes of celebrity: She's the tv show stand-in who slips into a celebrity's seat during award shows or TV specials to prevent unsightly "empty seats." Franny "participated silently at game shows, asked questions to guests on morning talk shows, and laughed on command at sitcoms. She contributed on focus groups, helped paper the house of previewing musicals, and ate at an array of new restaurants." While the list of events and places make for good stories and small talk, Franny misses a sense of belonging and friendship -- she feels deeply isolated in the Big City. She hopes to find friends and connections with her neighbors as they share a traumatic experience;
- Anne is single, lonely, and has an obsessive compulsive disorder. Things come to a head as she faces deep disappointment in her love life and professional life;
- Catherine is an only child and married to a After a history of difficult pregnancies and miscarriages, Catherine's overwhelming desire is for a child of her own. As this fixation begins to rule her life, it takes a toll on her marriage;
- Robin is a Manhattan-based realtor and she's been looking forward to spending time with her self-centered and power-tripping older sister, Vicki. They spend the day together shopping on Fifth Avenue and luxuriating in the spa, and Robin realizes something critical about their relationship; and finally,
- Sheila is a teacher living in one of the coveted rent-controlled apartments in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Like many in the City, she has her routine of morning coffee before the start of another day. Sheila finds unexpected sweetness with a flirtation with a charming stranger.
In Based upon Availability: A Novel, Alix Strauss skillfully incorporates her knowledge as a lifestyle writer as she recreates this world of privilege and luxury. Some characters are more compelling than others, I was most sympathetic to Trish. I could relate to her feeling that life was happening so fast -- that the change to the 30s seems so sudden. And it's not just that our bodies seem to betray us. There's the sadness and anxiety as we find that our professional lives and personal lives haven't kept up with expectations. While each of the characters had some particular vulnerability that made them interesting, there were other times when a character's myopia made me want to shake them. I'm sure that Strauss had intended this to be so. How much do you look for likability in the characters that you read about?
Overall, Based on Availability is an interesting glimpse into the lives of beautiful and dissatisfied people in New York. If you're fond of New York stories or contemporary women's literature, I think you might enjoy Alix Strauss's Based upon Availability: A Novel.
ISBN-10: 0061845264 - Paperback $13.99
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (June 8, 2010), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Alix Strauss is a lifestyle trend writer who appears on national morning and talk shows. Her articles have been published in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Time, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. She is the author of The Joy of Funerals, Have I Got a Guy for You, and Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious.
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Tuesday, June 22nd: Heart 2 Heart
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Thursday, June 24th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
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Date TBD: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Thank you to Trish and TLC Book Tours for this review opportunity!