Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all. After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain – yet somehow, still, we carry on.”
Synopsis: Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.
Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.
In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.
Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time, she muses. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is. Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.
“…at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”
Review: I’ve tried to write this review so many times, and yet, I just can’t seem to get the words to come out right in order to express my complete adoration of this novel. Yet here I am, trying yet again, and hopefully we’ll at least come close to something worthy of this masterpiece. I’ll put it this way. This book is a ten star rating in a world where five is as high as the rating scale will allow.
Everything about this book was beautiful and wonderfully written. The one thing that I think that Elizabeth Gilbert excels at above everything else is how she crafts her words into a beautiful quote. I have never seen another author quite as quote-able as Gilbert, and frankly, you could take almost any sentence from the novel and have it exist as a beautiful nugget. Reading this novel is like reading a breath of fresh air.
For those who know me, or have read several of my blog posts, you may know that I am an absolute theater obsessive. The fact that this book takes place in a small theater in New York immediately drew me in.
I also really appreciated that this novel, while a historical romance, didn’t really FEEL like it was historical. It was a story that felt it transcended time, and exists for all women. That being said, I really appreciated that Elizabeth Gilbert took a book that was set mainly in the forties and included, prominently, a lesbian couple. The fact that this story included LGBT representation (in a way that felt authentic, and not pandering) during a time period where a lot of people think that LGBT people just “didn’t exist” was beautiful.
This novel is a romance novel, but the romance in question isn’t a couple, it’s a woman falling in love with herself, with all of her faults and idiosyncrasies. She loves herself for who she is, and that is enough for her.
This is one of the books that will be with me forever. I don’t know how many times I’ll reread it, and honestly, I’m not sure if the world can count that high. This book has touched me in a way that I didn’t realize I needed. It was beautiful and inspiring. I’ve given a copy of this book to my grandmother, because I think that she will appreciate it’s timeless simplicity, and I can’t wait to recommend this book to anyone who needs the comfort of words.
“I fell in love with him, and it made no sense for me to fall in love with him. We could not possibly have been more different. But maybe that’s where love grows best—in the deep space that exists between polarities.”
Have you read City of Girls? What did you think?