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Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

5 out of 5 Stars

Okay I did it. I gave this one all the love. It takes A LOT for me to give a 5. It has to have a significant impact on thoughts and create a connection. This is everything I could want in a book.

This story takes you on quite a journey. Vivian is a well-to-do young girl in the 40s trying to sort out who she is and where she belongs. She is writing a letter to Angela who has asked Vivian how she came to know her father. (I’m purposefully not telling you who Angela is). This sets the scene for the retelling of her rollercoaster adult life. After dropping out of college, Vivian is sent to live with her zany Aunt Peg (I also have an Aunt Peg).  Viv takes her seamstress talent to work at her aunt’s off beat theater. She quickly finds herself swept up in the fast and tawdry lifestyle of the years before WWII. Men, cocktails, late nights (early mornings), fancy clubs, you get the idea. In what may be the apex of the story and the turning point, her need to “be a part of” and her naivety leads her to make a decision that turns her life upside down.  Along the way we all have the privilege of meeting many interesting characters, with interesting stories that are unique for the time period. She goes on to tell the story of her adult life, of which she does find fulfillment. Angela gets to learn (perhaps more than she wanted) about how Vivian knew her father. I won’t spoil it because you will be wondering, “who is Angela’s father” for the majority of the book. And it is SO GOOD! I didn’t see it coming. This book throws you curveballs when you aren’t expecting them. And at times, the writing was funny, making you smile.

There is also a serious tone to this book. Dark and serious. We also get to feel the impact, and societal shift, that happens when the U.S. joined World War II. NYC would never be the same. Women went to work in professions that perhaps they had not in the past. Men (and some women) went to war. Some rushed to marry. Some never came home. And after the war ended, NYC was a different world.

At one point during the first half, I was like, okay, I get it move on. I was becoming “done” with hearing that arrogant accent of fancy Golden Age “The-a-tah” actors have been portrayed to possess. But yet it was vivid, dense, and delicious. Goodness the second half of this book I could NOT put down. I was highlighting so many introspectful quotes (29 total). I would read some lines and sit there pondering them. City of Girls is full of surprises and full of depth. I can see this book becoming a movie, and I truly hope it does.

 

Quotes that I loved:

-“A person only gets to move to New York City for the first time in her life once, Angela, and it’s a pretty big deal.”

-“But this is a city that gets born anew in the fresh eyes of every young person who arrives here for the first time. So that city, that place—newly created for my eyes only—will never exist again. It is preserved forever in my memory like an orchid trapped in a paperweight. That city will always be my perfect New York.”

-“This is what flirtation is in its purest form—a conversation held without words. Flirtation is a series of silent questions that one person asks another person with their eyes. And the answer to those questions is always the same word: Maybe.”

-“You must learn in life to take things more lightly, my dear. The world is always changing. Learn how to allow for it. Someone makes a promise, and then they break it. A play gets good notices, and then it folds. A marriage looks strong, and then they divorce. For a while there’s no war, and then there’s another war. If you get too upset about it all, you become a stupid, unhappy person—and where’s the good in that?”

-“When we are young, Angela, we may fall victim to the misconception that time will heal all wounds and that eventually everything will shake itself out. But as we get older, we learn this sad truth: some things can never be fixed. Some mistakes can never be put right—not by the passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either. In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.”

-“After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.”

-“When something ends, let it end.”

-“This is what I’ve found about life, as I’ve gotten older: you start to lose people, Angela. It’s not that there is ever a shortage of people—oh, heavens no. It is merely that—as the years pass—there comes to be a terrible shortage of your people. The ones you loved. The ones who knew the people that you both loved. The ones who know your whole history.”

[I lost it reading this last one. The flow of the text into this conversation and the raw truth of it.]

 

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