City of Girls
“City of Girls” is a brilliant modern love story set in a time that this kind of modern love story wasn’t modern at all—the perfect blend of contemporary culture and values plus the make-your-own-luck, World War II American society. This story really demonstrates what it means to find true happiness and satisfaction in life, while giving a giant middle finger to every societal expectation and stereotype along the way.
“City of Girls” is the latest by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Committed.”
I love the way this book is written—Vivian, now in her 90s, narrates the whole story via a letter to Angela, the daughter of the late love of Vivian’s life. The book becomes a sort of confession as the elderly Vivian frequently comments on how naïve, gullible, and self-centered she was when she was 19 years old. I think that present-day Vivian’s remorseful reflection on her past is what saves Vivian from being a completely unlikeable narrator.
All of the characters are very deeply developed. They all have so much personality! Even the secondary characters come alive in this book. Vivian Morris is a wonderful narrator: funny, sarcastic, and (most importantly) truthful, even when she’s not proud of her actions. She knows she’s done some pretty gross and pretty terrible things, but she’s not going to apologize for who she is in her core; those mistakes don’t define her, but they did teach her lessons.
This is a very subtle feminist novel in the sense that you have to really be paying attention to the book’s theme to pick up on it. At the beginning, Vivian is very aware that she is beautiful, and she’s very willing to use her looks to get free drinks and find sexual partners. Vivian is vain, and though it helps that she knows it and is willing to admit it, she doesn’t change her ways.
She finds love in the end but does not pursue marriage; she is not going to be the typical 1950s housewife. She doesn’t have children of her own. Instead, Vivian takes care of her friendships and even offers one of those friendships to Angela. This is such a refreshing take on feminism, to have a character be a feminist without the character actually knowing that she’s a feminist.
There’s a part towards the end where Vivian points out all of the societal rebellions that she has lived through: the rise of feminism and the idea that women can do the physical work that men do, even during a post-war time; the gay rights movement; the civil rights movement. “My people got there first,” Vivian says. And it’s true; this book has all of it.
I loved the tiny mystery that kept driving this book along; the reader doesn’t know which man in Vivian’s life is actually Angela’s father, and it’s easy to forget that this is the whole point of the story until Vivian reminds you why she’s writing the letter in the first place.
I love the title in this book. It obviously references the play that Vivian’s aunt, Peg, produces at the Lily Playhouse, but it also means something else, I think. New York City is full of hardworking women, making lives for themselves, breaking stereotypes along the way. The women in this book are capable, strong, and independent, and that’s what the title is referring to.
I loved this book. I loved the plot, I loved the characters, I loved the message. This is a gem of a novel that reveals a group of women who were hidden inside the 1950s culture, women who weren’t housewives, who weren’t meek, who weren’t innocent, and they thrived. Feminism wasn’t born—it was grown.