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CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert | Book Club Discussion

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Hey readers, I’m Abbe. And I’m Jess. Thank you so much for reading along with us with our July book club pick. If you need a refresher we read City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and boy did we love this book. We loved this book so much. I actually read it on the beach which is why my dust jacket is missing but it was so, so good I couldn’t put it down. If you don’t already know what this book is about– is a woman named Vivian Morris
who gets kicked out of Vassar College at the age of 19. Yeah she’s asked to leave after she attends zero classes her freshman year, so. And she really didn’t enjoy it as you can gather from that and she’s sent to New York City to
live with her Aunt Peg who owns a theatre house called the Lily Playhouse in Midtown and it’s 1940 and she is just completely enthralled by the glamour that she encounters when she moves to New York. So yeah she moves right into
the second floor of the Playhouse right over the theater and right she’s
surrounded by all of these characters we’ve got the showgirls that are in the
performances every night we have the actors and actresses the man that writes
all of the scripts we have of course Pegg and olive who’s the very straight
Stern narrow business type she keeps everyone on the straight and narrow we need Celia Rea who is a showgirl of
the upper echelon gorgeous you can kind of picture her when she’s described
she’s got this dark hair dark brown eyes pale skin and just like a voluptuous
body and Vivian is just immediately attracted to her personality and
vibe yeah you know Vivian led this sheltered life she grew up in the
suburbs with these two parents and a older brother who never did anything
wrong yeah and has really like not seen the world for what it is and Celia
represents you know with her magnetic energy sort of all of these
possibilities and and the two of them begin to go out on the town together
yeah let’s have some wild drunken nights with many men Celia really does I think
introduced Vivian to the like world of sex and Vivian just fits right in there
she loves it she she’s a fast and yes Helia really shows her like what life it
could be like what nightlife is like in New York City in the 1940s and I was
shocked reading it because I was under the impression that at that time no one
was doing those things I don’t know why I believe this like no one was getting
drunk no one was like at least woman you know like going out and and and just
having one-night stands and and so I really enjoyed reading about that and
learning that that was a thing and you know even though this is fiction I’m
sure I’m sure it actually did quite a sexual awakening and she’s out every
night she’s discovering her independence her agency as a woman they go to all
these different clubs and tumblehome drunkenly at night and you know it’s not
all rosy know there were some difficult parts that were almost glazed over to a
certain extent with especially with Celia ray you learn a little bit about
her past and and kind of where she came from and and that she experienced some
really about abuse from men in her life she was
homeless for a period of time and the Lilly Playhouse really was like her
sanctuary but Vivienne learns pretty quickly like that men are not always fun
and that some nights can get very dangerous yeah I was actually you know
reading it with 2019 perspective I was struck by just sort of how Footloose and
fancy-free they were and really you know weren’t focused on a lot of the
consequences the hangovers the you know men grabbing them sort of they always
almost got away sort of scot-free yeah exactly
and they in Vivian talks about how they were kind of like looking for danger
around every corner and and that really rang true because I was just picturing
like again even today like walking down the street late at night drunk drunk
with like one friend to me seems very dangerous even now so you know looking
back I don’t know it was very risky yeah so the meet of this book centers on the
Lilly Playhouse and you know the paint is peeling and they can barely sort of
pay to keep the lights on they do picture the Lilly play I definitely cut
these sort of tired murals on the lobby walls and I mean it’s got such grandeur
but it’s covered in grime a little bit so they’re used to doing these Nichol
performances for the community it’s all the community can afford to pay it’s
sort of a trope that they do over and over again you know there’s a heroine
there’s a bad guy there’s a man who falls in love with the heroine and saves
the day but Pegg is actually married to this guy named Billy yes and Billy lives
a separate life actually in Hollywood yeah they’ve been separated they’re not
divorced but they haven’t lived together in a very
on time exactly they’d live sort of these different lives and Billy is
really a ladies man in his own right so he prefers that arrangement I’m sure but
he waltzes back into town and together they create this play that’s going to be
the play the savior of the Lilly Playhouse and that play is called city
of girls when that Cate but when that line appeared in the book I was like oh
my god this is the name of the play that they’re putting on it was so cool and
also I know is like Billy is a very wealthy famous director so having him
come in and like help write the show and like produce it and direct it was like a
big deal for peg because the Lilly Playhouse was struggling a lot and they
kind of needed this break to make it yeah and so this was really like a
saving grace for them and so they cast this incredible cast of characters sort
of higher prowess than what they’re used to and they all bust their butts and get
this performance ready for Showtime and it turns out to be a showstopper
everyone loves this play it does so well and even though they had to raise the
ticket prices people are coming to see it it paid off and I’m telling you when
I was reading this I could feel just the air around this show I was in theater
for a long time and when Elizabeth Gilbert was describing just like them
preparing for the show and what was going on behind the scenes writing the
music just the staging of it all I could picture it and the thing that touched me
the most was like before the opening night that’s always like a big night
when everyone’s very nervous about how it’s going to go and just the energy in
the room I could feel it the words of like luck and wisdom coming from Billy
and PEG it was amazing and it brought me back to those days so she did a really
great job of describing that feeling and honestly creating a show she created a
really awesome show that I would love to see this it’s so good so I really loved
that part of the book and so you might be wondering what our girl Vivian is
doing this whole time he decides getting drunk with Celia
Vivian turns out to be from early early days a very talented seamstress so
instead of going to class at Vassar she had girls lining up outside of her dorm
and asking for alterations and can you make this skirt fit and so she’s very
skilled with her sewing machine and so what does she do at the Lille Playhouse
everyone has a role she is the costume mistress and is in charge of outfitting
everyone in costumes although she’s working on absolutely zero budget so she
often goes to sort of he would think of it as like a second-hand store or a
vintage store but basically she’s digging through rags for gold and
finding you know oh here’s a great velvet dress from the 1920s that someone
donated here’s some fringe I can use that so she’s very resourceful with
these scraps of fabric that she finds and she’s not alone in in sourcing some
of these great fabrics yeah she has a friend named Marjorie who works at this
fabric shop that she goes to regularly and develops a really great relationship
with her Marjorie is very eccentric is how I
would describe her and that bond kind of develops over the course of the novel
but I really loved Vivian’s passion for so
and for creating costumes and clothing when she first comes to Lily Playhouse
she is kind of nervous because she doesn’t really know like what her role
will be in as we said it turns out to be costumes but she says that she wears
only clothes that she makes and everyone is just blown away by this and she seems
so proud of it and she worked hard to get there her grandmother taught her how
to sew and it’s something very special to her and I just I love when a
character has like such a defining passion for something and it carries her
throughout this entire book and throughout her entire life yeah I mean
clearly she’s not an academic she was asked to leave Vassar and she feels like
she can never measure up to her brother who actually decides to go into military
service at the start of World War two as the u.s. decides to enter the war she
feels like she can never measure up to his perfection what do you think about
her brother well I think I think it’s a complicated relationship I mean I think
that sort of met male and female relationships of the time you know we’re
very expected and you you know so he felt that he had to be sort of an
upstanding man strong exhibit this strength of character on the first on
the sports field then in the Navy I mean he I think he felt that he had no other
choice and then her role is supposed to be very
well defined yeah which is that she’s supposed to you know stay sort of pious
and find a great guy to marry and spoiler alert you know she doesn’t
follow who doesn’t the path that has been set out for her since birth
she enjoys being in the play house with all of these characters and I think she
feels some major judgment from her yeah her brother is very hard on her and
when he comes to New York this is before he joins the Navy he gets a glimpse of
her life and I think he is very shocked at what he sees you know her drunken
nights and her boyfriend Anthony who is a lead in the show city of girls who is
very touchy and publicly so and her brother sees it and he is just furious
honestly they almost get in a rumble they almost get in a rumble her and
Anthony I mean her boyfriend Anthony and her brother and things just heat up and
he kind of tells her like stop this as a command like not suggesting he’s like
stop it right now and he almost is like a father figure to
her in in many ways like a harsh father figure I mean I’m extremely close with
my brother and so it it’s where I sort of ached for them that they didn’t have
that kind of close relationship yeah especially you know towards the end of
the book she really I think mourns the relationship that they could have had
and if you’ve read it you know what I’m talking about
but yeah they never really achieved that sort of incredible sibling closeness
that I think is no wonderful and her relationship with her parents is also
very tenuous tenuous yes yeah her her mother is almost not present she’s ever
I see equestrian he cares about horses and riding and and basically like with
both of her parents I think it’s like don’t bring shame on the family and also
we don’t have the energy to deal with you yeah and so they just ship her off
to Aunt Peg who it’s sort of this quirky aunt like and Sam modeling after Vivian
and Walter her brother her father doesn’t even like his sister
a peg I mean they barely ever know so that kind of amused me a little bit when
Aunt Peg came to the house and he was like oh my god like MPEG is like kind of
the crazy and I love her though and I think she was really progressive because
again spoiler alert she was with a woman olive was her partner and in the 1940s
I’m sure that was frowned upon and they even got an apartment together
eventually and I think Aunt Peg was really an
important figure in Vivian’s life and allowing her to just be was very
important an ampeg also I struggles with addiction we can sort of see us you know
when Billie rolls back into town he’s like this out-of-control partier and you
can see his influence immediately on peg and she starts drinking more and you
know isn’t able to wake up and bounce back in ways that she you know she sort
of kept it under control when Billie wasn’t there but the second that he
comes back she sort of loses control and and really reckons with that I think
throughout the book which was another great layer to her personalities yeah
the one part that really touched me was when peg drank way too much with Billie
and she comes home and all of his waiting and she takes peg in and and
takes care of her and it’s like has tears in her eyes when she says she
can’t stop like she can’t just know when enough is enough and that really made me
very emotional yeah because all of his a very like we said before Stern very like
emotionless character but when it comes to peg in especially in that moment you
could tell just how strongly she felt for her so the Lily Playhouse puts on
city of girls and it’s a wild success so wild that it actually gets bought and
gets moved to Broadway yes and eventually the Playhouse closed
and we think this might be the end of the story but there’s so much more
basically this story is told from the vantage point of Viviane as a very very
old woman reflecting on the life that she’s lived and it’s like a letter to
this woman named Angela and you don’t really know who Angela is all you know
is that Viviane is trying to explain what Angela’s father is to her yeah and
so that’s we we have no idea who who this person is through the whole book
and I’m like is this gonna be Anthony’s daughter yes Angela I was
thinking that too you know so they’ve moved past the Playhouse the Playhouse
is closed Hagen Olive move out she ends up
befriending Marjorie this want this know who worked in the Ragman shop and the
two of them Marjorie ends up buying a building and
they start a wedding dress Atelier yes where they’re making wedding
dresses and of course Viviane does all of the sewing and Marjorie does the
designs and they really create this sort of life together not romantically but
there is a huge love between these two women so much so that is their life that
they create I almost thought it was going to turn into a romantic
relationship and was kind of rooting for it honestly but it didn’t and I did in
the end feel very satisfied with their friendship that they developed they even
raised a son together which was just beautiful and Vivian felt content I
don’t think she felt like she needed to be married to have lived a full life and
she was just happy yeah so towards the end of the book we see that Vivian is
actually asked to you know Korea she and Pegg used to work on these shows and
the Navy are during the war and you know we had to boost morale and so they were
after the Playhouse they were doing all of these shows about catching Hitler and
you know supposed to boost the soldiers morale and she’s actually asked back to
do an anniversary show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a policeman approaches her
there and reveals to Vivian that he actually was in her life at a defining
moment earlier we won’t say what it is should we touch a little on the scandal
or not I don’t know I don’t know okay if you haven’t read it like you’re already
you’re already in deep I go basically it’s it’s gonna be a long anyway
you know the scan he’s and this guy said something to Vivian that really just
like rocked her rocked her II he shamed her a slut shamed her yeah and I think
it really speaks to to like how sometimes strangers can have the biggest
impact on you the littlest thing they could say could mean more than anybody
else so he he slut shamed her and she carried it with her for her entire life
no feeling like you know she was she was a bad person yes because she’d been
promiscuous and had a boyfriend and you know was having sex before she got
married sort of all of these markers of old-school promiscuity yeah and and
Frank somehow is involved in this and it’s too
much to go into you know it four times yeah and he’s flush Eames her and she is
convinced that she’s sort of a bad person like she the shame that she
carries from that she can’t get over and so now here’s Frank approaching her
being like oh hey by the way I was in that car so many years ago and I
this terrible thing to you and I’d like to apply I’m out of here
goodbye yep she doesn’t even give him a chance to say any no she Ponder’s it and
like feels bad and wants to connect with him and you’re just basically like if
this guy was gonna apologize maybe I should listen John and he knew her
brother yeah so that was a big thing I think at this point in her life you know
she was missing her brother and once he dies he dies in the war and
wanted to just speak to someone who who knew him better than she did yeah and
she gives him a second chance and what does that lead to like
friendship and love so basically Frank has PTSD from the war
which is not talked about it had a 50s at all but he has been desperately
affected by his time in service and has the shakes he he cannot have anyone
touch him yes he’s just very sensitive to other humans and loud noises and and
as a way to deal with this anxiety he finds himself wanting to walk all over
Brooklyn at all hours of the night and he and Vivian become friends and they
just start pounding the pavement together walking this neighborhood and
and then this neighborhood and then this neighborhood and Queens and Manhattan
instead now you know they’re all over yeah and just talking and walking and
talking and walking and it’s not romantic I mean Frank is married he has
a wife he doesn’t want to touch her or be touched by her yet so it’s not a
romantic love but it is a love Friday is a love I think it’s a strong love I
think that I mean and I would argue this but people might disagree I think
sometimes that kind of love can be even stronger
your typical romantic love because your whole relationship is based on something
other than your physical connection it’s really emotional and I mean Frank shares
things with Vivian that he never shared before and I think
that just creates something very powerful and something that’s hard to
explain yeah because I think when a man and a woman are very close friends
people always assume that they have to be more than that but they’re they’re
really not and they only get stronger and and over time it’s a beautiful
beautiful friendship and I would argue that it’s a very strong love connection
yeah and so this is really like Vivian’s outlet you know she she makes wedding
dresses for others during the day and then she walks with this man at night
and they tell each other everything and it’s really it’s so interesting I love
Elizabeth Gilbert for creating this woman this heroine that doesn’t need to
follow the rules like there’s no wedding for Vivian at the end there’s no babies
for her there’s no prescribed ending that she’s been told her whole life that
she has to live towards like this is a heroine who creates her own path from
the start yep there one of the key lines that’s right on the back of the book is
that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person and I think that this
whole story really proves that point I mean a lot of people expect women still
to this day to you know follow that path to get married and have kids and just be
polite in quiet give up their career for for a family and and I loved Vivian I
loved that she was a little bad and I loved that she didn’t just do things to
appease people so she she was one of my favorite characters and she’s also the
the fact that we have her reflecting back on her own life means that she gets
to tell us when she screwed up so one major character we didn’t even touch on
in this 20 minute long book is Edna who is a famous Shakespeare actress who yes
whose house actually is bombed during the Blitz she lives in London and her
entire house is gone and so she decides like oh I’m gonna stay in New York I
guess and they make her Billy makes her the center of the show city of girls and
she’s the sort of actress with gravitas and you can see Vivian’s attention go
from like Oh Celia my party girlfriend to like oh yeah oh you are cool you wear
suits and pants and you are self-possessed and like wise and awesome
yeah and and and Vivian screws up she betrays Edna in a way that the two of
them cannot get over no and Edna tells her one of the worst things I think you
could ever tell someone basically that she will amount to be nothing that she
it was interesting yes she’s not even interested I think if someone told me
that I would just crumble into tiny little pieces yeah it’s very cutting yes
and so anyway in Vivian’s looking back on like here’s my whole life Angela
here’s here’s everything I’ve done that led up to this point she can reflect on
like I screwed up with Edna I didn’t I didn’t really treat her in the way that
you know maybe she deserved to be treated so there’s some some reflection
there it’s not just like and then this happened and this you know there’s some
looking back which is so cool teaches us a lot yeah Vivian and about her own
thoughts of her like 20 year olds at 4:30 or and
among us has not looked back or validate what you did and be like well that was
fun and a great time and I don’t regret any of it but I love that it was told
from her perspective as an older woman because like you said she reflects on
everything there’s a certain wisdom that she has now like looking back and I
never felt like it wasn’t an older woman looking back which was interesting I
always remembered that she was looking back on her time I but I still somehow
got lost in each moment totally I would get so absorbed in like what’s the
theater gonna do I gotta learn the choreography and then it would be like
in Angela we did and I’m like oh my god right this is a letter yeah yeah so yeah
she kept like tethering us back to that moment and Angela is Frank’s daughter
yeah so so her explaining you know what Frank meant to her was a lot yeah it’s a
way I mean she Frank dies and she sort of doesn’t really get to know him to the
extent that Vivian did on all those walks I mean she was a little girl when
her father returned back from the war and and her father was obviously distant
because totally of what he experienced and he’s not sharing these things with
his five-year-old daughter and so this is a way for Vivian to pass on this
incredible knowledge of her dad to this young woman and I that just like undid
me I mean I loved that part so do you think what do you think of all of her
friendships with women over the years I mean we’ve seen we see her like in the
dorm we see her with Celia then we see her with Edna and then finally with
Marjorie how do you think her her experience as a
friend grows I think her first of all her friendship
shaped her for sure I at first thought she was a little obsessive not going to
lie there I didn’t understand fully her relationship with Celia at first I was
like why are you letting this woman ruin your room and sleep with you every night
and I I again I thought there was some level of like romantic interest there
all the time but there wasn’t I think that over time she saw past any
superficial things that she was interested in like caelius looks and
yeah and I do like Celia I love Celia so I’m not not dissing Celia but with
Marjorie for instance that relationship lasts a very long time is built on
substantial grounds and they grow with each other whereas Celia was like I
think a temporary person that that was meant to be in in Vivian’s life and yeah
I don’t know I just I think that I like this book a lot because a lot of the
relationships are the important ones at least are with women mm-hmm yeah I mean
and and I think both peg and olive and Edna certainly serve
more so than her own mother as like this these upper echelon mature women and and
it’s interesting how you know even that generational difference they react to
things you know so much differently or expect different things from men so I
thought that generational difference and and Vivian looking up to these women who
paved the way who have created different marriages different ways of living
different ways of make living and they were really her role
models which I loved they really were and even Edna I mean this is why it
hurts so much when that relationship ended Edna was really there for her and
for Vivian and was rooting for her I think she saw great potential in Vivian
and encouraged her and Edna’s relationship with her husband was so
interesting because she was really the one in charge there I think very sucks
he saw he was my least favorite character maybe of all time I absolutely
hated him every time he would speak I was like oh god like here we go again
yeah he’s also an actor but he can’t act so bad at him and these jobs like he
does not understand anything it’s like I’ve been so much better than you bud
and I wanted Adnan to just like leave his ass yeah but she won’t
thinks he’s a pretty man but yeah and he’s also got money and you know so it
was it was complicated but I thought that and didn’t wasn’t as mad at her
dumb husband for his indiscretions as she was to Vivian yeah so she didn’t
treat them both the same maybe because she expected more from Vivian like
that’s true she I don’t even remember what was his name even Arthur Arthur I
could really keep going it’s been a long conversation already and I am enjoying
it and it’s right for this boy you’ve watched a yeah you’ve read it thank you
thank you it’s been a long day what was your favorite scene
well the pre pre-show one was one of my favorites I would have to also say
when they opened the wedding shop yes and they started just making that grow
like it was a beautiful moment and it it validated Vivian’s talent when she felt
so broken down from Edna’s like comment yeah and also when Vivian first comes to
New York City I mean I just you could feel the like Wonder in her eyes as
she’s just looking around at everything that New York City is and has to offer
exactly how I felt when I moved to the city 11 years ago just like I can’t
believe I get to live here and I mean the city has such energy and and it’s so
palpable in these pages just like the wonderment of New York City there’s
nowhere else like it exactly and Vivian just like she’s a city girl so I think
she was sort of waiting for her life to start until she got to New York it was a
beautiful beautiful moment so we’re so excited to hear from you guys what
scenes did you love what characters did you adore what characters to do despise let us know in the comments I hope
you’re all interacting with one another about this book we heard from some of
you you thought it was too sexy we love the sex yeah we look love it give us so hopefully you were not offended by
that but no we absolutely love this book it’s such such a beauty look at it so we
hope you enjoyed our July pick just as much as we did let us know let’s keep
talking about it on Facebook and yeah thanks for joining for joining us

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