Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls is a true summer read. Starting lightly and frivolously as a story about 1940s wild life in show business in New York city, the life of parties, showgirls, champagne and cocktails, late night fun and free, unrestrained sex that, as you read on, matures into more serious topics such as war and the nature of love. The story is told through a letter written by a seamstress, Vivian, about her life. A letter written to the daughter of the man she platonically loved.
It is easy to distinguish two completely different parts of this novel. The first one, the crazy life in New York before the war, setting up the production of the play City of Girls. The second one begins as the United States join World War II and countinues into Vivian’s later years and in the end of the book: her unconventional love with Frank. The first part is easy, light and fun, filled with mistakes and regrets but still fun. Vivan’s life after the war is completely different, her love with Frank is completely different. Although these two parts can seem only artificially glued together, I don’t see it that way. They are connected and logical the same way as every life is connected or logical, many things change in a lifetime and sometimes a life doesn’t seem like a homogeneous mix or a line, it is only made of things put together.
The character of Vivian is interesting, she is not too smart, she gets confused, lost, doesn’t know what to do or think or why she acted in a certain way, but as the time goes by she gets to know herself, living the way she knows she wants. Such a refreshing, lifelike character.
The approach to WWII is refreshing because it shows the war only from New Yorkers’ perspective, not telling false stories or false histories about somebody else and something else far away, it is only the view from the people that survived it from afar and got more or less destroyed by it when it got near. The story of American veterans, survivors, cowardice, courage and bravery. It all isn’t always the way it seems, it is not easy to judge or say what should have been.
One more thing I enjoyed in this novel was the makings of a play in New York in the 1940s. It was wonderful looking into the life in the theatre and everything else that surrounded it.
A delightful, easy, light summer read that will keep you turning pages quickly until the very end.