City of Girls

City of Girls

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Hardcover

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Overview

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!

From the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things, a delicious novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering that you don't have to be a good girl to be a good person.

"A spellbinding novel about love, freedom, and finding your own happiness." - PopSugar

"Intimate and richly sensual, razzle-dazzle with a hint of danger." -USA Today

"Pairs well with a cocktail...or two." -TheSkimm


"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves - and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life - and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is." Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594634734
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 20
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Magic, Eat Pray Love, and several other internationally bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction. Gilbert began her career writing for Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, the New York Times Magazine, and GQ, and was a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award. Her story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The follow-up memoir Committed became an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Her novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a Best Book of 2013 by the New York Times, O Magazine, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Yorker. Gilbert’s short fiction has appeared in Esquire, Story, One Story, and the Paris Review. Her new novel, City of Girls, will be released June 2019.

Hometown:

Hudson Valley, New York

Date of Birth:

July 18, 1969

Place of Birth:

Waterbury, Connecticut

Education:

BA, New York University, 1991 (Political Science)

Read an Excerpt

ONE

 

In the summer of 1940, when I was nineteen years old and an idiot, my parents sent me to live with my Aunt Peg, who owned a theater company in New York City.

I had recently been excused from Vassar College, on account of never having attended classes and thereby failing every single one of my freshman exams. I was not quite as dumb as my grades made me look, but apparently it really doesn't help if you don't study. Looking back on it now, I cannot fully recall what I'd been doing with my time during those many hours that I ought to have spent in class, but-knowing me-I suppose I was terribly preoccupied with my appearance. (I do remember that I was trying to master a "reverse roll" that year-a hairstyling technique that, while infinitely important to me and also quite challenging, was not very Vassar.)

I'd never found my place at Vassar, although there were places to be found there. All different types of girls and cliques existed at the school, but none of them stirred my curiosity, nor did I see myself reflected in any of them. There were political revolutionaries at Vassar that year wearing their serious black trousers and discussing their opinions on international foment, but I wasn't interested in international foment. (I'm still not. Although I did take notice of the black trousers, which I found intriguingly chic-but only if the pockets didn't bulge.) And there were girls at Vassar who were bold academic explorers, destined to become doctors and lawyers long before many women did that sort of thing. I should have been interested in them, but I wasn't. (I couldn't tell any of them apart, for one thing. They all wore the same shapeless wool skirts that looked as though they'd been constructed out of old sweaters, and that just made my spirits low.)

It's not like Vassar was completely devoid of glamour. There were some sentimental, doe-eyed medievalists who were quite pretty, and some artistic girls with long and self-important hair, and some highbred socialite types with profiles like Italian greyhounds-but I didn't befriend any of them. Maybe it's because I sensed that everybody at this school was smarter than me. (This was not entirely youthful paranoia; I uphold to this day that everybody there was smarter than me.)

To be honest, I didn't understand what I was doing at college, aside from fulfilling a destiny whose purpose nobody had bothered explaining to me. From earliest childhood, I'd been told that I would attend Vassar, but nobody had told me why. What was it all for? What was I meant to get out of it, exactly? And why was I living in this cabbagey little dormitory room with an earnest future social reformer?

I was so fed up with learning by that time, anyhow. I'd already studied for years at the Emma Willard School for Girls in Troy, New York, with its brilliant, all-female faculty of Seven Sisters graduates-and wasn't that enough? I'd been at boarding school since I was twelve years old, and maybe I felt that I had done my time. How many more books does a person need to read in order to prove that she can read a book? I already knew who Charlemagne was, so leave me alone, is how I saw it.

Also, not long into my doomed freshman year at Vassar, I had discovered a bar in Poughkeepsie that offered cheap beer and live jazz deep into the night. I'd figured out a way to sneak off campus to patronize this bar (my cunning escape plan involving an unlocked lavatory window and a hidden bicycle-believe me, I was the bane of the house warden), thereby making it difficult for me to absorb Latin conjugations first thing in the morning because I was usually hungover.

There were other obstacles, as well.

I had all those cigarettes to smoke, for instance.

In short: I was busy.

Therefore, out of a class of 362 bright young Vassar women, I ended up ranked at 361-a fact that caused my father to remark in horror, "Dear God, what was that other girl doing?" (Contracting polio as it turned out, the poor thing.) So Vassar sent me home-fair enough-and kindly requested that I not return.

My mother had no idea what to do with me. We didn't have the closest relationship even under the best of circumstances. She was a keen horsewoman, and given that I was neither a horse nor fascinated by horses, we'd never had much to talk about. Now I'd embarrassed her so severely with my failure that she could scarcely stand the sight of me. In contrast to me, my mother had performed quite well at Vassar College, thank you very much. (Class of 1915. History and French.) Her legacy-as well as her generous yearly donations-had secured my admission to that hallowed institution, and now look at me. Whenever she passed me in the hallways of our house, she would nod at me like a career diplomat. Polite, but chilly.

My father didn't know what to do with me, either, though he was busy running his hematite mine and didn't overly concern himself with the problem of his daughter. I had disappointed him, true, but he had bigger worries. He was an industrialist and an isolationist, and the escalating war in Europe was spooking him about the future of his business. So I suppose he was distracted with all that.

As for my older brother, Walter, he was off doing great things at Princeton, and giving no thought to me, other than to disapprove of my irresponsible behavior. Walter had never done an irresponsible thing in his life. He'd been so respected by his peers back in boarding school that his nickname had been-and I am not making this up-the Ambassador. He was now studying engineering because he wanted to build infrastructure that would help people around the world. (Add it to my catalogue of sins that I, by contrast, was not quite sure I even knew what the word "infrastructure" meant.) Although Walter and I were close in age-separated by a mere two years-we had not been playmates since we were quite little. My brother had put away his childish things when he was about nine years old, and among those childish things was me. I wasn't part of his life, and I knew it.

My own friends were moving forward with their lives, too. They were heading off to college, work, marriage, and adulthood-all subjects that I had no interest in or understanding of. So there was nobody around to care about me or entertain me. I was bored and listless. My boredom felt like hunger pains. I spent the first two weeks of June hitting a tennis ball against the side of our garage while whistling "Little Brown Jug" again and again, until finally my parents got sick of me and shipped me off to live with my aunt in the city, and honestly, who could blame them?

Sure, they might have worried that New York would turn me into a communist or a dope fiend, but anything had to be better than listening to your daughter bounce a tennis ball against a wall for the rest of eternity.

So that's how I came to the city, Angela, and that's where it all began.

They sent me to New York on the train-and what a terrific train it was, too. The Empire State Express, straight out of Utica. A gleaming, chrome, delinquent-daughter delivery device. I said my polite farewells to Mother and Dad, and handed my baggage over to a Red Cap, which made me feel important. I sat in the diner car for the whole ride, sipping malted milk, eating pears in syrup, smoking cigarettes, and paging through magazines. I knew I was being banished, but still . . . in style!

Trains were so much better back then, Angela.

I promise that I will try my best in these pages not to go on and on about how much better everything was back in my day. I always hated hearing old people yammering on like this when I was young. (Nobody cares! Nobody cares about your Golden Age, you blathering goat!) And I do want to assure you: I'm aware that many things were not better in the 1940s. Underarm deodorants and air-conditioning were woefully inadequate, for instance, so everybody stank like crazy, especially in the summer, and also we had Hitler. But trains were unquestionably better back then. When was the last time you got to enjoy a malted milk and a cigarette on a train?

I boarded the train wearing a chipper little blue rayon dress with a skylark print, yellow traceries around the neckline, a moderately slim skirt, and deep pockets set in at the hips. I remember this dress so vividly because, first of all, I never forget what anyone is wearing, ever, and also I'd sewn the thing myself. A fine job I'd done with it, too. The swing of it-hitting just at midcalf-was flirty and effective. I remember having stitched extra shoulder pads into that dress, in the desperate hope of resembling Joan Crawford-though I'm not sure the effect worked. With my modest cloche hat and my borrowed-from-Mother plain blue handbag (filled with cosmetics, cigarettes, and not much else), I looked less like a screen siren and mostly like what I actually was: a nineteen-year-old virgin, on her way to visit a relative.

Accompanying this nineteen-year-old virgin to New York City were two large suitcases-one filled with my clothes, all folded neatly in tissue, and the other packed with fabrics, trimmings, and sewing supplies, so that I could make more clothes. Also joining me was a sturdy crate containing my sewing machine-a heavy and unwieldy beast, awkward to transport. But it was my demented, beautiful soul-twin, without which I could not live.

So along with me it came.

That sewing machine-and everything that it subsequently brought to my life-was all thanks to Grandmother Morris, so letÕs talk about her for just a moment.

You may read the word "grandmother," Angela, and perhaps your mind summons up some image of a sweet little old lady with white hair. That wasn't my grandmother. My grandmother was a tall, passionate, aging coquette with dyed mahogany hair who moved through life in a plume of perfume and gossip, and who dressed like a circus show.

She was the most colorful woman in the world-and I mean that in all definitions of the word "colorful." Grandmother wore crushed velvet gowns in elaborate colors-colors that she did not call pink, or burgundy, or blue, like the rest of the imagination-impoverished public, but instead referred to as "ashes of rose" or "cordovan" or "della Robbia." She had pierced ears, which most respectable ladies did not have back then, and she owned several plush jewelry boxes filled with an endless tumble of cheap and expensive chains and earrings and bracelets. She had a motoring costume for her afternoon drives in the country, and her hats were so big they required their own seats at the theater. She enjoyed kittens and mail-order cosmetics; she thrilled over tabloid accounts of sensational murders; and she was known to write romantic verse. But more than anything else, my grandmother loved drama. She went to see every play and performance that came through town, and also adored the moving pictures. I was often her date, as she and I possessed exactly the same taste. (Grandmother Morris and I both gravitated toward stories where innocent girls in airy gowns were abducted by dangerous men with sinister hats, and then rescued by other men with proud chins.)

Obviously, I loved her.

The rest of the family, though, didn't. My grandmother embarrassed everyone but me. She especially embarrassed her daughter-in-law (my mother), who was not a frivolous person, and who never stopped wincing at Grandmother Morris, whom she once referred to as "that swoony perpetual adolescent."

Mother, needless to say, was not known to write romantic verse.

But it was Grandmother Morris who taught me how to sew.

My grandmother was a master seamstress. (She'd been taught by her grandmother, who had managed to rise from Welsh immigrant maidservant to affluent American lady of means in just one generation, thanks in no small part to her cleverness with a needle.) My grandmother wanted me to be a master at sewing, too. So when we weren't eating taffy together at the picture shows, or reading magazine articles aloud to each other about the white slave trade, we were sewing. And that was serious business. Grandmother Morris wasn't afraid to demand excellence from me. She would sew ten stitches on a garment, and then make me sew the next ten-and if mine weren't as perfect as hers, she would rip mine out and make me do it again. She steered me through the handling of such impossible materials as netting and lace, until I wasn't intimidated by any fabric anymore, no matter how temperamental. And structure! And padding! And tailoring! By the time I was twelve, I could sew a corset for you (whalebones and all) just as handily as you please-even though nobody but Grandmother Morris had needed a whalebone corset since about 1910.

Stern as she could be at the sewing machine, I did not chafe under her rule. Her criticisms stung but did not ache. I was fascinated enough by clothing to want to learn, and I knew that she only wished to foster my aptitude.

Her praise was rare, but it fed my fingers. I grew deft.

When I was thirteen, Grandmother Morris bought me the sewing machine that would someday accompany me to New York City by train. It was a sleek, black Singer 201 and it was murderously powerful (you could sew leather with it; I could have upholstered a Bugatti with that thing!). To this day, I've never been given a better gift. I took the Singer with me to boarding school, where it gave me enormous power within that community of privileged girls who all wanted to dress well, but who did not necessarily have the skills to do so. Once word got out around school that I could sew anything-and truly, I could-the other girls at Emma Willard were always knocking at my door, begging me to let out their waists for them, or to fix a seam, or to take their older sister's formal dress from last season and make it fit them right now. I spent those years bent over that Singer like a machine gunner, and it was worth it. I became popular-which is the only thing that matters, really, at boarding school. Or anywhere.

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City of Girls: A Novel 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Great story, fantastic writing, but sublime characters!
Anonymous 9 days ago
This was such a great story! I loved how it was told by a woman looking back on her life through a letter she wrote to Angela. I felt like she was telling this story directly to me at times. While it was a little dull at times, by the end, I did not want the story to end!
Anonymous 26 days ago
I+really+loved+how+the+story+unfolded+
Reader4102 4 months ago
This is the tale of Vivian Morris’ life after being asked to leave Vassar and being sent to Manhattan to live with her aunt Peg, the owner of the Lily Playhouse. It is told in the first person by Vivian as an aged woman looking back on her youth. The writing here is adversely affected by how Gilbert chose to relay the story, i.e., first person and written many, many years after the events. There are some wonderfully quirky characters but they are borderline stereotypical. The pacing is slow moving as Vivian describes her early days in Manhattan, but picks up as she settles into life in and around the Lily Playhouse. If you love Gilbert’s other works and tales of 1940s Manhattan, you’ll undoubtedly want to read this novel. My thanks to Riverhead and Edelweiss for an eARC.
Anonymous 3 days ago
Fantastic read! Could not put it down!!
Anonymous 3 days ago
Just finished reading City of Girls and I truly lived the whole story. This was my first Elizabeth Gilbert book and I loved it. There was so much to Vivian that I loved especially her uniqueness.Im not sure about all her sexcapades and it was ironic the one man she truly loved she didnt sleep with but it all came together so wonderfully in the story. Well written hard to put down again I loved it!
Anonymous 4 days ago
A+good++book++
Anonymous 4 days ago
I knew I would love this book just based on the synopsis, but I didn't expect it to steal my heart in the way that it did. This book is written as a letter from 89-year-old Vivian Morris to a woman named Angela. We know from the beginning that Angela's father was someone very important to Vivian, but neither of their identities are revealed until almost the end of the book (and honestly, it took me by surprise). Vivian begins her story in the summer of 1940, when she is 19 years old and has just been kicked out of college. Having lost the approval of her traditionally conservative parents, she is sent away to New York City to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg, who owns a crumbling theater known as the Lily Playhouse. Young Vivian is thrust into the world of glamorous showgirls and raunchy show business, and she begins to live the kind of adventurous life she craves, full of sex and booze. This "chapter" of her life is detailed for the first half of the book, and while it can be quite slow-paced at times, it is never boring, and the character development is absolutely wonderful! Vivian's world is then turned upside down when she makes a professional mistake and gets herself into trouble. This is where the story gradually speeds up to present day; Vivian glosses over the next few decades of her life and the lessons she learns along the way, but never once does it seem to be too rushed. I loved every page; Vivian is a fabulous narrator and tells her story with such grace. She is hilarious and brutally honest, and in my opinion, a feminist icon. Some themes explored in her story are female sexuality and promiscuity, the hypocrisies of traditional gender roles, and what it means for a woman to live her life unapologetically and as she pleases. I loved reading about Vivian's personal growth. I found myself laughing out loud, feeling angry towards some characters, grinning from ear to ear, and fighting back tears -- all in the span of one sitting. This is historical fiction that reads like a glimmering memoir; it is so well-written and well-researched that it's easy to forget it isn't a true story. It's also full of words of wisdom. My favorite quote: "Life is both dangerous and fleeting, and thus there is no point in denying yourself pleasure or adventure while you are here. . . . Anyway, at some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is." This was my first book by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I can safely say she has earned a new fan. The characters and story are absolutely unforgettable. This book is going straight to my shelf of favorites (and not just because the cover is gorgeous)!!
Anonymous 4 days ago
I really liked the way the author had Vivian tell her story. I didn't want to stop reading this book. The characters were so interesting. Highly recommend
Anonymous 5 days ago
A page turner.
Anonymous 5 days ago
actual+tears+rolled+down+my+face+in+the+end+of+the+story+snd+what+a+story+it+was%0A%0A%0A
DragonNimbus 12 days ago
City of Girls is a difficult book to classify. I loved it for so many reasons - the writing was excellent, the characters fascinating and unique (I missed them after I finished reading!) and the plot entrancing. I had a hard time putting it down. The story opens with an aged Vivian Morris answering a letter from Angela. The letter was to inform Vivian of Angela's mother's death. At this time Angela wanted to know exactly what Vivian's relationship was with Angela's father. You don't get a lot of details about this as Vivian starts her story in 1940 as she leaves Vassar after flunking everything but sewing for her schoolmates. Her disgusted parents send her to Aunt Peg'in New York City, in 1940. At 19 years, Vivian has lived a privileged life so far - her one talent is that she can sew anything. This comes in handy as Peg owns the Lily - a decrepit old theater waaay off Broadway Vivi shares the apartments upstairs with the cast and crew as well as Olive, Peg's very good friend and business manager and soon becomes initiated into the life of theatre folk. . Vivian befriends Celia, a gorgeous showgirl, and is soon spending her evenings carousing the city, drinking, flirting and eventually enjoying quite a bit of sexual freedom. Peg's famous actress friend, Edna and her handsome much younger husband flee war-torn England and agrees to help Peg put on a play to pass the time. City of Girls is the musical like no other, that soon becomes a blockbuster hit with the help of Peg's play-write ex-husband. Together they class up the show, and Vivian becomes involved in sewing fabulous costumes as well as in an affair with the lead actor. She makes a terrible mistake that changes her life as well as lives of those around her but Vivi is a survivor and makes her way back into the world to create a life that makes her happy. The story is told with so much vivid description I was often surprised to come back to the 21st century. Elizabeth Gilbert did a great job conveying the glitz and glamour of 1940's New York as well as the bleak deprivation of the war era. Well known figures of the time popped up here and there as did well-known historical events. It was entertaining to see everything through through Vivian's eyes. Also unique was Vivian's sexuality and how she comes to view herself in the changing world. There were delicious descriptions of the clothes that Vivian creates as well as fabrics and fashion. Vivian's relationship with Angela's father began later in their lives and was in itself touching and captivating. City of Girls is an all around excellent book that I think anyone would enjoy! It was a privilege to read.
Anonymous 12 days ago
What can I say?! I don't want this book to be over. I loved everything about it! I loved Vivian and all of the other wonderful characters in this book! I loved her "family" and the story of their lives, and I love that we hear it all from Vivian, herself. She's someone I would have wanted to be friends with, for sure! You know it's an excellent book when you feel like you're sadly going to miss all of the people and the story now that it's over. Excellent read!!!
Anonymous 14 days ago
Not very much story line but relaxing read
Anonymous 16 days ago
A very interesting and heartfelt story. Kept my interest from page 1. I could picture the settings and the characters like I stepped into the book.
Anonymous 19 days ago
read+the+first+chapter++and+last+two%0App
Anonymous 27 days ago
City of Girls is a warm, funny, at sometimes sad yet always wonderful story. This book is now on my "favorite" books shelf!
TUDORQUEEN 4 months ago
It's 1940 and nineteen year old Vivian Morris is a Vassar College dropout. In the summer of that year, Vivian's parents sent her packing to New York City to stay with her Aunt Peg. Peg owned a dilapidated theater company called the Lily Playhouse which churned out revues sporting former burlesque dancers transformed into showgirls, with mostly forgettable storylines. The ticket prices were cheap to adapt to the low income residents in the immediate neighborhood. The living quarters were located above the theater, its apartments often filled with down on their luck actors, actresses and dancers. Vivian was suddenly thrust into a sparkling world of dazzling, artistic people and life-changing experiences. Some themes explored are loss of virginity, sexual hunger and prowess, and same-sex relationships at a time when it was "under the radar." Vivian was given an exquisite and spacious apartment in the building, which was actually meant for Aunt Peg's flighty actor/writer husband Billy Buell. Although they never officially divorced, Billy was living the Hollywood/playboy life clear across the country. But, that was okay. Aunt Peg had her stalwart mate Olive that oversaw everything at the theater like an army sergeant. This book lured me in from the first page with its beautiful narration by Vivian. Vivian is telling her life story to an unknown person named Angela, whom we don't get to identify until almost the end of the book. Vivian's story is told from 1940 to the present day, in epic fashion. An especially poignant and relevant time period discussed in the book is America's involvement in World War II. I was often deeply moved throughout this tome, and had a fixed vision in my head of the beautiful Vivian. The writing style was easy, flowing and the pages turned effortlessly. I highly recommend this wonderful book for a rich, quality read. Thank you to Riverhead Books / Penguin Publishing Group for an advance reader copy via Edelweiss.
Susanlibgirl 4 months ago
I really enjoyed this novel. It is the coming of age story of Vivian... who is a college drop-out in 1940's New York. The novel has a very interesting cast of characters and the story line keeps you page turning for more of Vivian's exploits. Starting out as a self-centered girl, she eventually finds herself working in the theater and eventually growing into a strong woman. I have already ordered this novel for my library collection. Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for this book
Anonymous 19 days ago
Enjoyable+story+with+many+characters+that+provide+the+reader+with+smart+storylines.
Anonymous 19 days ago
A+beautiful+passionate+book+of+a+woman%27s+life+and+her+earning+her+personal+Field+of+Honor.+Rich%2C+and+touching.+Wonderful+characters+and+and+personalities+that++fill+the+story+with+depth%2C+humor+and+intricacy.+
Anonymous 20 days ago
Great story. Loved it!