Alix Strauss's Based Upon Availability has an intriguing premise: eight women are all somehow connected to the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. Two work there; one has an affair there; one has a sister who stays there; one applies for a job there; one detoxes there; one spends a morning there for brunch; and one hosts a party there. Strauss tells each of these women's stories over the course of one chapter or several, and sets a pivotal moment in those stories within the walls of the luxury hotel. Many of the women cross paths at some point or another as well.
These stories are connected thematically too. Each of these women is experiencing some sort of isolation or disconnection in her life. There are troubled family relationships with parents and siblings. There are soured romantic relationships. There are psychological demons - OCD, substance addiction, phantom pregnancies. And there is the type of loneliness and jealousy that life in New York City can inspire - the feeling that everyone else is living the life you want. This is not a sunny book - these women's lives can be downright depressing. But Strauss is a compelling writer, and she makes her characters relatable and interesting. It's a little hard to keep all of the women straight, but it doesn't detract from the book.
Strauss uses a lot of detail and sharp observation to draw a robust picture of these women's lives, even in a single chapter. (Morgan, the hotel manager, gets about a third of the book.) I ultimately liked this book a lot, despite the somewhat choppy structure. From what I've read about Strauss, she is keenly interested in moments of pain and crisis in women's lives, and the resulting quest for redemption that either triumphs in the end or is defeated by circumstance, often tragically.
You can read some other reviews of Based Upon Availability at Book Addiction (who liked the character development), Nomad Reader (who found the book uneven), and Raging Biblomania (who found it "moving", "elegant" and "personal").