Reviewed by Palo Garcia
CITY OF GIRLS
By Elizabeth Gilbert
480 pages. Riverhead Books.
In the end of the first Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw alluded to her and her friends’ wonderful years in New York City, and how the Big Apple will never run out of girls like their iconic foursome: bold yet vulnerable, with wisdom sharpened by the endlessly fascinating (though not always glamorous) experiences they have in the city.
Throughout pop culture, there never seems to be a glut of characters, particularly women of a “certain sort” drawn to New York City—where Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel City of Girls begin. Set in the 1940’s, 19-year-old Vivian Morris, a Vassar kick-out of WASP origin, is sent to New York to live with her bohemian aunt in a crumbling theater called the Lily Playhouse. Determined to go off the script written for her by being born into a wealthy family, Vivian dives head-first into an adventure that many a suburban girl only dreamed of. Not only does she have her first taste of freedom, but she meets a lot of interesting characters along the way—as well as a lot of trouble.
It is in this dizzying array of characters that City of Girls truly shines. From their larger-than-life personalities to the nuances in their dialogues and scenes, these characters make the novel—a 466-page door-stopper!—a fast and enjoyable read.
As Vivian forms unlikely friendships with—or gain a better understanding of—these characters, you’ll get drawn in to what seems to be the book’s thesis: that this city brings these bold yet vulnerable, experience-hardened creatures together. And that living in this city propels them to commit magnificent mistakes and if they’re lucky or tough enough to soldier on, bring them a future they have never even dared to imagine.
Constructed like an endless letter written to a younger woman named Angela, the novel dwells heavily on Vivian’s life at the Lily and the events leading to the theater’s legendary yet short-lived masterpiece, a play titled City of Girls. There’s a “venial” mistake that the young, admittedly vain protagonist makes during this period—something inevitable given her trajectory, but crushing and humiliating all the same.
Left with the consequences of this mistake, Vivian begins anew—and I think this is where the heart of the story truly lies. I began the first couple of hundred pages wanting to throttle the life out of her to sympathizing—and even admiring—some of her later choices. Because what Vivian did—and all the women in the novel—to rise up from circumstances that spun out of control, is what girls and women do. We get back up, dust off our knees, and make the most of the situation.
City of Girls might seem like your next beach read or something to tote along to your next flight, but it’s more than that. It has its enjoyable parts (especially when I read all the dialogue in my head in an Atlantic accent—try it!) that provide great amusement for the moment, but its bold heart will stay with you long after you finish it.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Palo Garcia is a writer by trade and a book hoarder at heart. She hopes to one day conquer the behemoth that is her to-be-read pile. She sometimes talks about books and films on social media (@palollibee on Twitter and Instagram).
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]