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Monday, June 21, 2010


The storied Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan is the backdrop for a unique novel about the secrets that women carry. Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss ties eight women's stories into the hotel, with Morgan, a sales manager at the hotel, at the center of the story.

Morgan's life seems to revolve around a tragedy that occurred in her youth. Her older sister Dale died when she was just eleven years old, after a long, protracted illness. Her sister's death has held the center of Morgan's life. Morgan is angry when no one, not even her parents, remembers the anniversary of her sister's death.

Morgan has idealized a relationship with her sister, imagining all they would have shared had Dale lived: boyfriends, husbands, being an aunt to her sister's children. This imagined sisterly relationship is contrasted with an actual sisterly relationship between Robin, a real estate agent, and her sister Vicki.  

Vicki is horrible to her sister, treating her worse than one would treat an enemy. She uses Robin, who only wants a close relationship with her sister. Vicki tortures Robin incessantly. The tables are turned in a horrible incident that takes place in the hotel. One has to wonder if Dale had lived, would their relationship be more like the idealized one Morgan imagines or would they have a dysfunctional sisterly relationship as Vicki and Robin do.  

All of the women harbor secrets, and try hard to hide their dysfunction. Morgan surreptitiously takes room keys from the hotel, and during the day, lets herself into rooms to rifle through guests's belongings. She imagines the kind of life they lead, and when she finds a sexual item, she steals it, hoping no one reports it missing.  

Anne works at the hotel and desperately tries to hide her obsessive-compulsive disorder. Through online dating, she meets an artist who works with "found objects", and he proves to be her undoing.  

Franny was my favorite character. She is in her late thirties, a Southern belle who relocated to Manhattan. She works as a seat filler for award shows and Broadway openings, an exciting, though lonely, occupation. At the end of an exhilarating evening,

getting on a bus or sitting alone in the back seat of a cab dressed in other's people's gowns she'd purchased at consignment shops and on EBay, with no one's hand to grasp, was devastatingly lonely. At home, though she could sit anywhere she wanted, she never found a comfortable spot, a place where her body could just relax.
Sometimes when novels had many characters, they can all blend together in the reader's mind, but Strauss excels at creating unique, individual women with words like that. Of Honor Kraus, a high-powered "PR icon to the stars", Strauss writes "she wears success like the wash boys in the kitchen wear their cheap cologne-strong and powerful-". From those words, you get who Honor is right away. 

 All of these women are sad, and their relationships with themselves and those they love is tenuous. Ellen wants so badly to be pregnant that she convinces herself she is, driving her husband away. Morgan wants a sisterly relationship with Trish, a gallery owner, who has a complicated relationship with Olive, an artist. Franny falls for a neighbor, and wants deeply to be a part of all of her neighbors's lives. 

 This is not a happy book. But the women in it will haunt you, as you ponder what secrets the women you know harbor within themselves. It may even cause you to look inwards at the secrets you keep about yourself.

Rating 4 of 5 stars.

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