City of Girls – Book Review

Book by: Elizabeth Gilbert

My Rating: 3/5 Stars — Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction — N. of Pages: 496

What was this story about:

City of Girls is written as one long letter.  A woman named Angela asks Vivian Morris, the main character, to explain Vivian’s relationship with Angela’s father. Vivian responds to this letter with the story of her life beginning at age 19.

Vivian Morris is from a wealthy family who lived in the suburbs a couple of hours away from New York City.  Vivian is a lost teenager when we meet her; she specifically calls herself “an idiot” at the beginning of chapter one. She fails out of college and needs to return home to her disappointed parents.  Her parents are at a loss as to what to do with their teenage daughter, who doesn’t seem to fit in in the high society surrounding her and is not academically successful.  They decide to send Vivian to live with her Aunt Peg in New York City. Therefore, in 1940 Vivian Morris gets onto the train and heads to New York City. 

Aunt Peg lives and owns a theatre in a poor neighbourhood in New York City.  The theatre is not in good shape and is not really in the centre of the ritz and glamour of theatre in New York City, but Vivian loves it! Vivian is in amazement of The Lily Playhouse, Aunt Peg’s theatre.  She is impressed and fascinated by the showgirls, the dancers, the actors, the play writers and everyone else involved in this theatre. Aunt Peg discovers Vivian’s sewing skills and asks Vivian to be the seamstress for the theatre.  She then becomes consumed with making, fixing and purchasing fabrics for the costumes in the plays.  This is when she begins to create friendships with the showgirls, specifically Celia.  Celia is a beautiful showgirl who seems to take a liking to Vivian.  Celia teaches Vivian how to showcase her beauty, go out in New York City, and have sex with lots of men.   Vivian adapts this new way of life and thrives in it, until one horrible night where she makes a mistake that will derail the life she built and loved in New York City at the Lily Playhouse. 

After a brief return to her parents’ house and a pivotal interaction with her brother, Walter, who is about to go to war, she eventually returns to New York City with Aunt Peg.   She returns to New York City to help her Aunt Peg with a new theatre job supporting the war effort.  This is where we begin to see Vivian’s character mature a bit and better understand who she is. 

My thoughts on the book

What I liked:

I loved the description of New York City in the 1940s.  The glamour, the parties, the social scene all were described perfectly.  I have only been to New York City once, during Christmas time, and I loved it, but it seemed even more amazing how Gilbert told it.

I also loved the fun and excitement that was described in theatre life at the Lily Playhouse.  It seemed like such a fun place to work and live.  Most importantly, the characters who lived and worked at the Lily Playhouse were all interesting in their own way.

The relationships that Vivian made with the other characters were the best part of this book.  There was something Vivian learned from every person that came into her life.  Sometimes people came into her life for a brief moment, and sometimes she created lasting friendships with people she grew to love.  However, it was clear that every relationship, whether long or short, played a role in creating who Vivian Morris was.  I have always believed that everyone who comes into your life plays a role.  It could be a brief one, someone you enjoy at that time, or a life long friendship. I feel this was one of the most critical messages from City of Girls.

What I didn’t like:

Unfortunately, there was quite a bit that I didn’t like about this book. Vivian’s character was just not that interesting.  I feel she lacked depth, excitement and maturity.  I was more interested in the characters around her; then I was in her story.  About halfway through the book, I realized I didn’t care what happened to Vivian’s character, and I found her kind of annoying.  Her character growth was so focused on her sex life that it became redundant to keep reading about. Vivian’s central character trait seemed to only be about her love for sex, and it is tough to keep the book interesting when you’re solely focused on that.  At the beginning of the book, I found Vivian to be extraordinarily naive, but that never seemed to go away, even as she grew older.  She got herself into dangerous situations with men but, for some reason, never really learned from these experiences; what’s worse, she never seemed to care.  I knew pretty early on that I wouldn’t love this book, but I was able to keep reading based on the character development of the people around Vivian.  The book is also very long, and it seems it could have been summed up in far fewer pages. It was also challenging to keep reading when the main character seemed to lack depth.   

If you have read this book, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my comments?

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