After dropping out of Vassar College, 19-year-old Vivian Morris is sent to her eccentric aunt in a run-down theater in 1940s New York City called the Lily Playhouse. What follows is a world of excitement, showgirls and parties, and scandal—narrated by the now 95-year-old Vivian and details all the events that forever changed the course of her life. It’s a mostly unapologetic look at a woman’s life and the freedoms she enjoyed, but also the disappointments and shame of some of her mistakes.

“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.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time, but her fiction work hasn’t been of particular interest until this one. So let’s get the downsides out of the way, first. It’s very long. The novel goes into excruciating detail, and then the final chapters felt like Gilbert had to rush to a conclusion to not end up with A Game of Thrones kind of book. And yet, it is a delightful read. The writing is inspired and often profound, but it squeezes in a little bit of lighthearted fun here and there.

“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. 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.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls

It’s pretty refreshing to read a story from the perspective of a woman fully enjoying her sexuality and independence. I’ve read some reviews about this book having way too much sex, but I don’t think there’s that much. Yes, Gilbert describes some of the sexcapades in detail and allusions to sexual encounters and events, but I would not consider this a very erotic read. It’s a very matter of fact recount of events.

“…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.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls

When you finish reading this book, you can’t help but wonder if there was a real Vivian Morris out there and imagine how cool a grandma she would’ve been—just imagining sitting at a coffee shop, delighted in all her tales and adventures. It was a fun read, and if you can handle the length, an enjoyable one.

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