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Book Review: City of Girls

For some reason, despite being a huge bookworm, I have not yet done a book review on my blog. But for one reason or another I took a look at the book I finished last night and decided to start! The book I finished (as you guessed from the title) was City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read it because it was the book of the month for the moms book club I belong to in town. Having read other books by Elizabeth Gilbert before (Eat Pray Love, Signature of All Things), I was excited to see where she was going to take this book and, boy, was it a ride!

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Since this book was written by Elizabeth Gilbert, I was interested to read it on my own, but may not have done so as soon without the book club. The description of the book is interesting and I do love a story of a woman growing and learning through her mistakes. The one part that honestly was a bit of a drawback for me was that it was "a rollicking novel of glamour, sex, and adventure" since I am usually not gravitated towards that kind of description.

** This review contains spoilers! If you are interested in reading the book, I suggest bookmarking this review for once you have finished!

At the time that I started this book, I was also in the throws of reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which totally consumed me as you can probably tell from quite a few of my recent posts. So reading City of Girls was not on my priority list and got set aside for a little while. Once I finally did start reading it, it started a little slow, but I assure you, quickly picked up!

This book is jam packed with a swirling glitter of glamour. The cover itself feels rich and gorgeous, accurately giving you an idea of what is to come inside. The story is about Vivian Morris, an irresponsible girl who flunks out of college because she is more interested in fashion and herself. Her parents then send her off to live in New York City with her Aunt Peg, who owns a small theater called the Lily Playhouse.

The Lily Playhouse is known for putting on small shows with smaller audiences and they are getting along by the skin of their teeth. There is a slew of outrageous characters who fill this little theater including the showgirl Celia Ray, Olive the brains of the operation, and Mr. Hebert who is their miserable playwright.

Celia Ray takes a shining to Vivian and they become partners in crime. Celia Ray and a few of the other showgirls set up Vivian to lose her virginity with an awkward doctor. After that experience, Vivian and Celia take on New York City. They are frivolous and hungry to seek out how they can get the best time from the city. As two gorgeous girls who are obsessed with themselves they bar hop, party, and hook up until they are drunk out of their minds and finally go home.

Throughout the narrative of this section of the story, Vivian has many more sexual encounters as she follows the lead of Celia Ray, who is much more experienced than her and whom men seem to gravitate towards. Though it does feel as though Vivian is tagging along, she seems to be able to make the decision for herself that this is how she wants to live her life at the age of 19. There does not seem to be an element of peer pressure, rather a young girl being opened up to a world of possibilities that she was not aware of before.

Aunt Peg's dear friend, Edna Parker Watson, and her husband, Arthur Watson, come to the Lily in search of refuge because their home in London has been bombed by the Germans. Vivian is immediately drawn to Edna and her fashion choices, while everyone seems to realize that Arthur is an idiot.

Then Aunt Peg's husband/not husband (cause he lives in California) Billy Buell comes to the Lily and wants to create this magnificent show for the theater starring Edna Parker Watson and he decides to call it City of Girls. In short, he creates this magnificent play and seems to steamroll the whole process causing everyone to be stressed out that they start snapping at each other like wolves over a carcass.

I didn't feel as though it was truly explained why this dude comes to New York all the way from Los Angeles other than that an old friend is in town. Maybe he initially sees the potential to make a lot of money off of Edna with a play. From what the story suggests, he likes to do this big thing and then leave with the fame and glory while the people he has left behind are holding the check. What a jerk.

This guy was not my favorite character at all, mostly because his introduction to the story is that he comes into Vivian and Celia's shared bedroom that is technically his room that is reserved for when he comes to town (though he doesn't actually stay there when he is in town because he stays at some hotel or apartment) and hits on his niece. Gross. I know he doesn't realize Vivian is his niece, but it is still gross when older men hit on much younger girls.

Vivian is the one who helps with the costumes for the Lily's plays since she is an excellent seamstress, and attends the auditions for the play. This is where she meets her first actual boyfriend, Anthony. He is a carefree, skinny, Italian who doesn't seem to give a hoot what anyone thinks. He is cast immediately because Olive, who gives the final word on who is cast, is not paying any attention to him and he says he should just leave because of this. Vivian also becomes promptly obsessed with him.

They end up dating, but from the book it seems more like they just do the deed (or variations of it) and maybe go out from time to time. Vivian is a high maintenance lady, so she starts badgering Anthony about getting his own apartment (he lives with his brother), and changing his style, and changing his personality. Girl. Ain't no man going to change that much for you.

The turning point of the story for Vivian is that Edna Parker Watson is invited to an event that she takes Anthony to as a sort of escort/date because she is in City of Girls. At first Vivian doesn't mind, but then Arthur becomes upset and there is a fight between him and Edna in the lobby. Vivian tells Anthony to not get involved (since he is egging Arthur on) and Anthony gets frustrated with Vivian, Edna gets frustrated with everyone except Anthony, and Arthur is frustrated with Anthony and Edna.

Arthur ends up going out with Celia and Vivian, which is where Vivian learns that Arthur has been having an affair with Celia. They end up at a bar, then the three of them end up outside in a weird three person embrace. Suddenly Arthur kisses Vivian and then Celia kisses Vivian, which then leads to the three of them going to a hotel together to be "together." Well, unfortunately for these three knuckleheads, someone snaps a photo and it is rumored to be in the news the next day.

From here, the short of it is that Olive get's Vivian's name out of the story so that she will not be ruined for the rest of her life by talking to the man who plans to publish it. She takes Vivian home to the Lily where the next day Edna gives her a talking to and says she is not an interesting person and never will be. After that, Vivian calls her brother who drives out with a guy who is in the military with him (cause the kid has a car), also gives her the what for and then the driver calls her a "dirty little whore," on the way to dropping her off at her parents'.

She spends time with her parents (around a year, I recall), then Aunt Peg comes to the parents' home to bring her back to the city to help put on informational plays for the Navy. Vivian does this with her Aunt for three years, then opens a bridal gown boutique with a connection from creating costumes, Marjorie, who ran a fabric warehouse sort of place with her parents. The two girls live in the same building as the boutique.

During a reunion of sorts for the Naval yard that Vivian worked at, she is stopped by a nervous man who wants to say that he knew her brother, Walter, because they were on the same ship that Walter was killed on and the man survived. His name is Frank and he is the same guy who drove her brother to get her in NYC after her scandal. Understandably, at first she doesn't want to talk to him, but eventually reaches out and they connect.

The rest of the story follows their relationship and how he has a wife that he does not really have much of a relationship with anymore, as well as a daughter, whom he loves dearly but also does not have a close relationship with because of his trauma from being in the Navy. The trauma he has is that he cannot be touched and cannot sit still, so he is constantly walking, therefore goes on many walks with Vivian.

Vivian does fall in love with Frank, but in an emotional way, and knows that they could not be "together" because she vowed to never get involved with a married man again. This relationship, however, seems to be really healthy for both of them, as they both feel comfortable divulging any and all information with each other.

I did love how this book was not your typical romance and showed two people who could love each other on a deeply emotional level. They had no strings attached and could be completely honest with one another about anything. Their friendship grew and they had a wealth of trust with one another.

During the beginning of the book, I was not sure where it was going to go, but for some reason I did feel like the boy driving the car with Vivian's brother was going to become significant. Later when Frank finally approaches her, I felt like I knew immediately who he would be. This didn't make the story feel obvious or any less interesting and I really liked his such a seemingly minor character became such an influence by the end of the book.

The idea of the book being somewhat of a letter to Frank's daughter, Angela, was also very interesting, and it was fun throughout the book to see Angela's name, knowing that this older woman was conveying her story to another woman. I'm not sure how believable it was to have some of the material in this so called "letter," but maybe in her older age, Vivian was not the sort of person to be concerned with that. She does later say that the older you get the less you feel like apologizing for who you are.

All in all, the book began as a dizzying swirl of glamour and glitter, but then softened into delicately woven lace. It truly did feel like a coming of age novel similar to Where the Crawdads Sing, but again, more glam. They are similar in the fact that they follow the protagonist from a young age through adulthood up until old age.

If you have already read City of Girls, what did you think? Did you enjoy the book and did you suspect Frank to be the driver as well? Comment below with your thoughts!




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