City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

s-l640I would generally classify this as a not-too-deep, not-overly-literary, entertaining, historical (1940s), and at times slightly racy coming-of-age novel. The ingenue moves to New York City and discovers sex and the theatre scene; trouble ensues. And probably 2/3 of the book was just that.

But then. The entire thing is nominally written as a letter to someone named Angela, whose role is, throughout this first act, a mystery. At the end of this period, our heroine, Vivian, moves back home with her parents and tries to be “good”–briefly–and then, during World War II, finds herself back in New York. In a rather strangely paced second act, we get a kind of summary of the next few decades of Vivian’s life, and see her somehow transformed into a deeply empathetic person of substance.

It’s all reasonably interesting–and of course, we do eventually find out who Angela is–but it feels like a mismatch from the first part, not only because of the pacing, but also because it feels to me like it largely skips over the actual transformation. We see the careless girl and the kind, wise woman–and we get some idea of what started it, perhaps–but the real payoff would be in exploration of how A turned into B. As it is, there’s a bit of whiplash: from glitter and feathers to the unfathomable trauma of a war tragedy. And for me, the retrospective voice that pops up here and there doesn’t fix that.

Ps. A bit of the ostentatious research here…

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