"City of Girls" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9781594634734

In a letter to early readers of “City of Girls”, the new novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author implores that we take a break from our troubles and allow this story to delight us, like a summer cocktail. Gilbert also wants us to remember that “You don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person”. I enjoyed this introduction to a narrative that largely takes place in the decadent, off-Broadway scene of New York showgirls preceding World War II. Our narrator is a 20 year old Vivian Morris, a self described “pretty brunette” who is vain and immature, yet endearingly curious and adventurous. The entire book is staged as a letter to a young woman named Angela whom we never meet until the end, to explain how Vivian knows her father… a relationship which takes the entire book to reach, but is tremendously poignant. Our gal Vivian drops out of college and is sent to live with her Aunt Peg in the city, eventually boasting that she can do two things well, “sewing and sex”. Vivian takes us through her world as a costume seamstress for the performers of the Lily Playhouse, who at the climax of the story write, stage, and sell out tickets for a spur of the moment show dubbed “City of Girls”. I thought Gilbert did an excellent job portraying the world and mind of a young and vain woman learning the ropes in the big city, completely free as a bird to engage her libido and armed with a talented eye for cloth – vivid descriptions of silky and satiny outfits abide. But as she learns through growing pains, we do eventually have to answer for our actions. I entered this story believing this would simply be a saucy read, a juicy romp - in a blurb via NPR’s email list, I remember reading something akin to “Elizabeth Gilbert shocks Scott Simon with lots of sex!”. To be more realistic, I felt a bit more like it reflected the journal of a young silly girl having fun in the big city (lots of men and lots of sex), reaching emotional maturity in conjunction with the realities of war, and evolving into a tremendously interesting older woman. I feel the hallmark of a valuable read is a resonant feeling in my body afterwards that I am changed, that I will continue to wonder about the characters and their futures. An intriguing read!