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Trouble in Paradise

 
Three Bedrooms in Chelsea
by Liz Ireland
(Strapless, PG, $12.95) ISBN 0-7582-0543-0
***
Liz Ireland’s first Strapless release is a good-natured portrayal of three very different women inhabiting the same New York City apartment. While not groundbreaking by any means, Three Bedrooms in Chelsea is a fun summer read marked by strong characterizations and humor that arises naturally from the interactions between the women.  

Aspiring actress Edie Amos is thrown for a loop when her journalist boyfriend announces that he’s being transferred to Uzbekistan for an indefinite assignment.* Not only is she going to miss him, but she’s also horrified at the idea of having to leave their spacious (by New York standards) two-bedroom apartment. So, faced with the impossible prospect of producing twenty-one hundred dollars a month, Edie reluctantly takes out an ad in the Village Voice for a roommate.  

She ends up with two. After a series of unpromising candidates, Edie meets fierce, imposing Greta Stolenbauer, whose slightly mangled English renders her that much more intimidating. Edie is afraid to say no, even when Greta moves in with a collection of ugly, heavy furniture and a large inert cat. Then Edie meets Texan Danielle Poitier, who is fleeing the proscribed life her fiancé and parents had planned for her, hoping instead to become a successful writer once she gains enough life experience. Edie doesn’t have the heart to say no to her either, although all she can offer Danielle is a small space that is more closet than bedroom. So there Edie is, with two roommates and the slowly dawning realization that her boyfriend has moved on in more ways than one. In the next nine months, the mismatched roommates will deal with crises in love and work, slowly realizing that the forced cohabitation has made their relationship develop into a cross between dysfunctional family members and best friends.  

Edie, as the original apartment-dweller, is the novel’s nominal main character, and unfortunately the least interesting as well. She’s standard Chick Lit fare, approaching thirty with her professional and personal dreams not yet attained. She’s the straight man around which the other characters revolve, although her misadventures in the acting field are entertaining. Greta has more depth; orphaned as a teenager in Germany, she spent several years living with a relative who didn’t really want her, and now fights substance addiction and the feeling inside that she is unlovable. When the tough exterior softens up to let in unexpected romance, it’s very poignant and believable, but she never loses her ability to intimidate everyone who crosses her path.  

Perhaps the greatest character growth is seen in Danielle, who thinks she is making a strong statement of independence by moving to New York, even though she’s still completely dependent on her parents’ money. The spoiled but not mean-spirited heiress learns the hard way how to truly survive on her own after several tough breaks. Although her naiveté regarding the Prince Charming she finds strains the reader’s credulity, it’s hard not to cheer on her efforts to break free of her family’s minimal expectations.  

The book’s humor is gentle but not forced, and the characterizations ring true. Liz Ireland, who has showed promise in previous novels, continues to display a winning style that, while not award-winning, is certainly enjoyable for the reader.  

--Susan Scribner

*Note to Strapless back cover writer: Istanbul is not the same as Uzbekistan; you only had to read page one of the book to catch that error. Did you think Uzbekistan was too hard a word for us poor, simple romance readers to handle?


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