Dear Fellow Readers,
I was avoiding reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s current book. I think that her hype for the book irritated me. Plus, she lives her life in the public eye and she was beginning to feel like that friend that just sucks the air out of the room because they are so much. So much drama, wanting so much attention, just so much…
I know that most people will have no idea what I am talking about. I am an Elizabeth Gilbert fan. I get her newsletter; if I see anything about her in the news, I will look to see what is going on. I have watched both of her TED talks – one of them several times. I bought a kindle copy of Big Magic but wanted to be able to refer to sections and go back over it, so I bought a physical copy of the book. I liked Eat, Pray, Love. and have read all her books since then.
But I was not rushing to read City of Girls. I didn’t want to. I had had enough.
As these things happen, City of Girls was chosen for one of my book clubs. I kept ignoring the fact that it was coming and that I should read it. (I don’t know about you, but another problem is when I “should” read a book rather than when I “want” to read a book I often have a hard time settling down with it.) But time was running out and I knew I had to get to it.
The first evening I read 25 pages. I was completely hooked. The book made me happy – I wanted to read more. I would say that her writing in this book exceeds her other books. I enjoyed reading it for the writing. I wish I could write like that.
The book tells the story of Vivvie (Vivian) Morris. The tale, told by Vivvie, is being told to Angela Grecco. We know from the beginning that the reason Vivvie is writing to Angela to answer the question “What were you to my Father?”
To answer that question, Vivvie tells the story of her life. The meat of Vivvie’s story starts in the 1940s in New York City. Vivvie has been sent to live with her Aunt Peg in NYC because she has flunked out of Vassar and is driving her parents crazy with her aimlessness.
“Anyway, I arrived in New York city safely – a girl so freshly hatched that there was practically yolk in my hair.”
That decision is pivotal in Vivvie’s life. She moves to NYC to live with her aunt in the theater that her aunt owns. There are many things that immature Vivvie doesn’t understand but she soon learns about the parts of life that she has been sheltered from and decides to take those new lessons and run with them. She even admits that she was asking for trouble and was excited by testing boundaries. From the mistakes she makes, she learns many lessons and has many heartbreaks.
“The field of honor is a painful field, Olive went on… That’s what my father taught me when I was young. He taught me that the field of honor is not a place where children can play. Children don’t have any honor, you see, and they aren’t expected to, because it’s too difficult for them. It’s too painful. But to become an adult, one must step into the field of honor. Everything will be expected of you now. You will need to be vigilant in your principles. Sacrifices will be demanded. You will be judged. If you make mistakes, you must account for them. There will be instances when you must cast aside your impulses and take a higher stance than another person – a person without honor – might take. Such instances may hurt, but that why honor is a painful field. Do you understand?”
Vivvie’s grandmother taught her to sew – not in a casual way but taught her to be a master seamstress. That skill was Vivvie’s savior throughout her life. She could always make money with her sewing and her ability to know what would flatter a person’s physique. With her talent and skill, she also learned about using old clothes to remake new clothes. This was needed at the cash strapped theater. It helped to make her part of the Lily Theater family. And then at other times in her life, she used her abilities to support herself.
Vivvie is a complicated character. She floats through life without many commitments but has people that she loves and that love her. She defines her own family. Part of the book is the realization that each generation thinks that they have discovered new societal behaviors when in truth, those behaviors have existed for all of mankind.
There is truly nothing new under the sun.
“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try and live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. Neve will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it as best they can.”
This book is one that makes me want to yell from the mountaintops that you should read it. No doubt, Vivvie will make you wince with some of her decisions, but you will love her anyway. She is a flawed character – just as we are all flawed characters.
Thanks for reading.