Strapless, $12.95, ISBN 0-7582-0543-0
Contemporary Fiction, 2004
Liz Ireland’s debut chick-lit novel with Strapless, Three Bedrooms in Chelsea is a three-girlfriends-room-together story. It doesn’t hold much surprises for anyone who has read chick-lit stories before. Romance readers should be aware that the romantic entanglements in this book are superficially touched on and the guys are secondary characters. This one focuses very heavily on the relationship between three unlikely roommates.
Edie Amos is waiting for her career big break in the world of showbiz while she waits tables. When her boyfriend ditches her for a career upgrade in Uzbekistan, Amos finds herself renting out the rooms in the apartment she used to live with her boyfriend to pay the rent. She is living a little outside of Chelsea, but the rent is still exorbitant. Greta Stolenbauer is a tough Amazonian woman who parties hard and tough. After leaving a succession of bad boyfriends, she decides to room in with Edie. Meanwhile, sheltered Danielle Porter decides to leave Amarillo, Texas to forge a writing career as Danielle Portier (after Sydney Portier, see?) in the Big Apple. She ends up living the same apartment as Edie and Greta.
It is quite difficult to summarize the wacky adventures these three women get into because there isn’t a plot as much as there is a non-stop series of misadventures the ladies get into from the day Greta and Danielle move in to the happy ending. All of these adventures are catalyzed by Edie’s attempts to get Greta to move out, the very sheltered Danielle’s attempt to be independent, and Greta’s attempts to find love with a good man. Liz Ireland puts in quite a number of amusing scenes here that work. I especially like how even the most outrageous comedic moments actually feel plausible. Edie, Greta, and Danielle won’t be winning awards as the most sensible people around, but at the same time they come off as people that may actually be living and arguing somewhere out there in the world.
Greta is one of the weakest characters in that I never really get a clear picture of who her character is supposed to be. Edie is more of a standard chick-lit heroine who whines and moans for a while before getting her act together. It is Danielle that surprises me by being the most well-drawn character of them all in that her growing up isn’t smooth sailing, and she doesn’t turn into a complete saint at the end of the day. She’s not the most likable heroine around but she is a far more two-dimensional character than Greta and Edie. I get this impression that when she finally comes into her own person, she’ll actually be a wiser person than the other two women because her epiphany cuts deeper than the others’.
It is fun to follow Ms Ireland’s amusing and vivid depictions of life in middle-class Manhattan, but even more enjoyable is how the relationship between the three women has some depths underneath the laugh-a-minute wacky hijinks. The conflicts between the women are standard chick-lit conflicts, but the build-up is satisfying because the author forces Danielle to really grow up and reexamine herself. Ms Ireland isn’t afraid to let her main characters to suffer hard pangs of conscience and as a result, Danielle comes off as a very interesting and well-drawn character who, while not perfect, is also very human in her strengths and weaknesses.
Were not for Danielle, this book would be an ordinary chick-lit story. Danielle’s epiphany provides some welcome depths to this story. In a way, she makes this book more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. The ending is a little too upbeat and Pollyanna-esque after all the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing they all went through, but I guess we all need a happy ending somehow.
While not a keeper, Three Bedrooms in Chelsea manages to provide plenty of laughs and enough emotional punch to keep me entertained from start to finish.