Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review: City of Girls

By Melissa Amster

"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 eighty-nine 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. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Until now, I've only read one of Elizabeth Gilbert's books--Eat, Pray, Love obviously. I really enjoyed it, but somehow never got around to reading anything else she has written in the past eleven years. I had no idea what she was capable of when it came to fiction, so I was pleasantly surprised with City of Girls.

I loved everything about this novel. It is extremely well-written and captivating throughout. The vivid imagery made it so easy to picture everything that was going on. I felt like I was stepping back in time to visit New York City in the 1940's. The focus on musical theater was a big draw for me and I love how that aspect was played out (excuse the pun). Vivian was so relatable, regardless of the fact that she lived in a different time period. Her "voice" was witty and compelling. I enjoyed getting to know her and seeing where her path in life took her over the years that this novel spanned. Elizabeth had great characters and their interactions and dialogue were so genuine that it made the story flow beautifully. I had no idea where anything would go, as it was not predictable, and I enjoyed the journey from start to finish.

City of Girls is such a beautifully told story about love in its many forms. I recommend it to everyone as a must-read. It is definitely one of my favorite novels from this year.

Movie casting suggestions:
Vivian (20s): Maya Hawke
Vivian (30s-50s): Jamie Clayton
Olive: Alex Borstein
Anthony: Noah Centineo
Peg: Christine Elise
Celia: Conor Leslie
Marjorie (adult): Gabby Hoffman
Frank: Alessandro Nivola
Edna: Cate Blanchett
Arthur: Chris Pine
Billy: Johnny Depp

I won this book from Reading with Robin and am so thankful for the opportunity to read it this summer.

More by Elizabeth Gilbert:


Lori Bree said...

Great review! I've heard nothing but amazing things about this book! I'm on the hold list at the library for it!

Michele Morin said...

This sounds like the kind of book I would need to keep reminding myself, "This is fiction. It's not a memoir."