City of Girls
CITY OF GIRLS opens in upstate New York in the early 1940s. To her parents’ horror, Vivian Morris has flunked out of Vassar. Less as a punishment than simply to get her out of their hair, they send her to stay with her flamboyant, free-thinking Aunt Peg in New York City. Here, Vivian’s life truly begins.
I wasn’t wild about Eat, Pray, Love, the book that put Elizabeth Gilbert on the charts. I felt that the heroine of this memoir was self-indulgent and self-absorbed. I felt the same at the start of City of Girls, which is definitely a novel. Here, though, there is growth. Here, there are signs of a talented writer.
For one thing, Ms. Gilbert’s rendition of the life of party girls in the Big Apple in the 1940s is filled with detail and flavor.
For another, her cast of characters is well-conceived, each one fleshed-out and believable.
For a third, the trajectory she gives her protagonist is satisfying. But. Only…at the end of the book. This is the one problem I had.
The book is written as a letter to a woman who plays a role in the protagonist’s life that is unknown to us for 400 of the 450 pages of the book. It isn’t until those last 50 pages that we understand who she is. It isn’t until these last fifty pages that the whole book takes on meaning and life.
In that sense, these last 50 pages are redemptive. I just wish we hadn’t had to wait so long. On one hand, I understand – and agree – that those 50 pages have meaning only because of the story preceding it. On the other, that story might have easily been shortened without a loss.
That said, this is an easy read. There are elements for a book club to discuss. If you’re going on vacation, take it with my blessing.