BOOK REVIEW: CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert
1940. New York City. Theater life. And the tagline: You don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person. I’m in. Give me all the pages, Liz. I fell in love with this author when I was in college & read about her travels in Eat, Pray, Love. And again when I read Big Magic a couple of years ago. I had not read any of her fiction until now.
I read much of City of Girls while attending the Rise conference in Dallas. I read it while waiting in line to go through security, while waiting in line to buy a hat, waiting in line to pick up lunch or refill my water bottle. Basically, I turned the annoyance that it is to wait in line into something super entertaining. While other ladies were scrolling Instagram, I was reading about a girl who was experiencing her first orgasm. I KNOW– it shocked the mess out of me, too.
I got the idea to take a book with me to these sorts of things when I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, & he said he always made time for reading by reading while he waited in lines– even at the grocery store. What a novel idea, Steve! And seeing as this book is a 470-page hardback beauty, & I was standing amongst 7,400 women, it naturally became a conversation starter. Oh, what are you reading??? And I always began with my standard disclaimer– Well, it’s a bit of a promiscuous, steamy read….if you’re okay with that, you’ll love the story.
Vivienne Morris is nineteen years old. She’s flunked out of Vassar (because she simply never showed up to class), & is a bit lost on what she wants to do with her life in Uptown New York. Her high society parents send her by train to live with her Aunt Peg, who lives above her crumbling theater in midtown, the Lily Playhouse. After a sheltered youth, she is introduced to the first time to showgirls, playboys, & a life in the most exciting city in the world with no curfew. She also has a knack for sewing and ups the theater’s costume game by miles. Vivienne and Celia, leading showgirl, become linked at the hip, sharing an apartment above the theater together & Vivienne learns what it means to live a showgirl kind of life after dark. But when a personal choice becomes a scandal worthy of the papers, Vivienne flees the city, leaving only a note to her aunt behind.
Now at 89 years old, Vivienne finally tells the full story. She walks through important events, her desire for connection, & what it took to own who she is. To put it in Vivienne’s words, “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.”