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October 16, 2019

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: A Review

by Alison DeLuca
cover of City of Girls and its author, Elizabeth Gilbert
cover of City of Girls and its author, Elizabeth Gilbert
Over the past weekend, I took my nephew to comic con, walked several miles of city sidewalk, ate in a few Irish pubs, and read City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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City of Girls was the perfect NYC trip companion. Gilbert's novel is set in 1940's New York City, where Vivian moves after flunking out of college. This young, pretty, irresponsible girl stays with her Aunt Peg in the dilapidated Lily Theater, along with a group of showgirls.

Once Peg realizes that Vivian is really good at sewing and design, the girl is hired to make costumes for the crew. And when Celia, the prettiest showgirl, discovers Vivian can also sew dresses and create accessories from scraps, the newcomer's popularity is assured.

Vivian joins Celia for an increasingly fast-paced summer of drinks, dances, and flirtation, freely admitting that she's selfish and self-absorbed. World War II is heating up in Europe, but what does that mean to two young ladies who can wow a club filled with men? Their main interests are champagne, kisses, and a new dress, not news headlines about France and Germany.

When a celebrated actress from London arrives with her useless husband to stay at the Lily, she sets in motion a new play called City of Girls. Everything points to this show being a huge hit, and Olive's old theater slowly comes back to life.

Enid, the English actress, is a wonderful character who springs to life. She's so stylish that young Vivian is smitten with Enid's suits and hats as much as with the woman herself. Enid is talented and striking, and Vivian finds it amazing that such an incredible woman could have married Arthur. In fact,  Enid's husband is a handsome dud: boring, pretentious, devoid of acting talent.

Arthur sets a series of events in motion that eventually lead to Vivian's downfall. He's the closest thing to the villain in the book.

I'm not going to say that City of Girls is a stand-out novel by any means. Gilbert frames her story as a letter to "Angela," and you have to read the novel to find out who she is. It's a clunky mechanism for telling the story.

Also, there are exclamation points scattered like glitter throughout. I'd be okay with one or two since it captures the voice of an excited ingenue discovering jazz, booze, and sex. But if an editor had plucked out 75% of the exclamations, City of Girls would be a better book.

Arthur is as cardboard as a cutout figure. I understand that the character is supposed to be dumb as a box of hair, but I maintain that a skilled author can create a boring person who comes to life. Arthur does nothing but spout third-rate lines designed to show how clueless he is.

After reading Eat, Pray, Love and seeing Gilbert's TED talk, I admired the writer's skill. So why couldn't she bring this clueless husband to life? A few side scenes of the man taking the last piece of cake or stealing quarters from Peg could have made him three-dimensional. However, this never happened. Perhaps Gilbert is such a positive person she couldn't bear to spend time on Arthur, her negative creation.

And yet City of Girls was an addictive read. As we walked from pubs to bookshops to the Javits Center, I kept sneaking out my phone so I could read "just a few more pages." I wanted to see if the play would be a success. I wanted to read more about Peg and her estranged husband, Billy. I wanted to see where Celia would end up. I had to find out what would happen to Vivian and her new boyfriend, Anthony.

If you want a subtle novel with finely-drawn characters, City of Girls is not for you. But if you're looking for a sparkling historical for a train ride or a night in a hotel, give this one a try.

Buy City of Girls at Amazon


Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently, she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.




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1 comments:

  1. sounds like a great weekend. and that cover is intriging and, like you said, it sounds like the perfect read for the moment
    sherry @ fundinmental

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