City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Vivian grew up in a rich family in a small town several hours outside of New York City. She had just been kicked out after her freshman year at Vassar College, basically for not going to class. Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, so they sent her to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City.
Peg owns and runs the Lily Playhouse, a run down theatre in a working class neighborhood of Manhattan. They operate on a shoestring budget, with simple performances for simple working people.
Vivian makes herself useful by designing and sewing costumes for the girls from thrifted clothing, and quickly immerses herself into the party scene of New York City. She goes down the rabbit hole of booze and men, learning that her desires aren’t those of ‘nice’ girls. Vivian’s life is set against the backdrop of World War II, with her brother volunteering for service in the Navy.
The book is narrated by 95 year old Vivian, who is looking back and reflecting on her life, filling in the blanks for the daughter of a man who meant the world to Vivian. She is honest and candid about her non-traditional life, lived in a time when women were expected to conform…
As usual, Gilbert’s character development and fluid descriptions allow the reader to fully immerse into the story, feeling the full sadness, rage, pain and joy of the characters. It is well worth the read.
“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”