Book Review: Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

Travel Books & Movies — By on January 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Based Upon Availability

by Alix Strauss

Harper Collins, 2010

RATING: 3.5 Stars


In high school and later in college, I typically spent weekends, school vacations and summers working in my parent’s hotel.  It was small, homey, a place for “summer folk” to hang their hats while they explored the Maine Midcoast area. Guests loved it and returned regularly, and in a similar nod to the significance of place, Alix Strauss’ Based Upon Availability centers around the Four Seasons Hotel in New York as an entity; a vehicle for each of its characters stories and development.

Through the perspective of Morgan–hotel manager and the narrative’s thread–we meet seven women searching for change in their professional or personal lives. The first nine chapters are told from Morgan’s point of view.  But the next seven chapters, told in different narrative styles (something this LG loves to see in fiction), are dedicated, one-by-one, to the women Morgan has encountered in her work.  The result is slightly more sophisticated than chick-lit, yet still with plenty of the genre’s girly guilty pleasures (big parties, shopping and handsome men)  thrown in.

Each story reminded me of someone I know; the similarities between one character and myself were especially nerve-wracking. But that made the story that much much more compelling. And while my parents’ place was nothing like the Four Seasons, I had to smile at the universality of the issues between staff and management, managing guest expectations, and making it all look effortless as Morgan tries to.

Some readers might find the change of narrative voices and styles jarring.  I happened to welcome it, especially since Morgan began to wear on me as a character.  Things just seem to happen to Morgan, leaving her feeling helpless and depressed until she acts out.  For me, the more I learned about Trish, Robin, Louise, Franny, Anne, and Sheila, the quicker I turned the pages.   Morgan does, however, eventually take ownership when she narrates the final chapter.

For the book’s very New York setting, there isn’t much to excite the traveler in me specifically.  Rather, it’s each character’s need for change and direction that a lost girl can identify with up to the end, when Morgan takes the reins and decides how to enact that change in her life.
The ending left me with questions, wishing I could have had more of the other characters’ stories and perspectives than was there.  However, aside from Morgan’s wishy-washy-ness, I enjoyed Based Upon Availability for what it was.  It is definitely worth tossing in your carry-on.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Check out Alix Strauss’ Based Upon Availability on Based upon Availability: A Novel

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