I should confess at the start that I have an inconsistent relationship with author Elizabeth Gilbert. I thought EAT, PRAY, LOVE was vastly overrated. But I simply inhaled THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. And now, I can wholeheartedly recommend CITY OF GIRLS. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
This novel begins with a letter. Written by an older Vivian Morris to a somewhat younger woman, Angela. It’s an attempt to answer a question posed by the younger woman. Only it turns out that it’s not an easy question to answer. And it takes the entire book to explain why.
Vivian first must revisit her life, beginning in the 1940s. From her wealthy but emotionally remote family of origin to a brief but disastrous experience at Vassar College, and, then landing on the doorstep of her bohemian aunt living in New York City. There, Aunt Peg and her extremely efficient business partner, Olive, run a rundown theatre that puts on second rate plays to a not-very-discerning neighborhood audience.
But NYC turns out to be revelation to 19 year old Vivian. Cavorting with glamorous showgirls, meetings legendary actors, and sampling the city’s wild nightlife is almost too much for the previously sheltered Vivian to handle. She learns a lot about love and makes some big mistakes, all while putting her considerable sewing skills to good use at the theatre.
I won’t speak to her adventures or the impact of World War II. Nor how she ultimately answer’s Angela’s question — since that would certainly spoil the read for you. But for me, the real value of this book is its exploration of love, in all its forms. Within family, between romantic partners, between siblings, and among good friends.
We’re not talking about the fantasy of love. The love Gilbert explores is all too human. The people are flawed. They often blunder and let each other down. But each one is loved anyway, for the whole person they are. Flaws and all. And, as we ultimately see, even those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into loving families can create their own loving families — out of the special people they meet throughout life. So, keep your eyes open.
More about the author.
You may be interested in my review of another book by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things.