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Literature / City Of Girls

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City of Girls is a historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, published in 2019.

Vivian is a sheltered girl from a wealthy family who, after flunking out of college, goes to live with her eccentric, bohemian Aunt Peg in New York City. Peg runs a theatre company, and Vivian lives in the apartments above the theatre, along with an unusual cast of characters including a playwright, showgirls, Peg's estranged husband the movie star and writer Billy Buell, and Peg's stuffy business manager Olive. Vivian has a great time exploring the city and enjoying her youth, until a scandal lands her in hot water. And then World War II happens...


This book provides examples of:

  • Defiled Forever: If anyone had found out that Vivian had had a threesome with a showgirl and a movie star, she would have been seen this way. Justified by the time period and her social class. It would literally have ruined her life.
  • Good Bad Girl: It's even quoted on the book's back cover: "You don't need to be a good girl to be a good person."
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Vivian and Celia and the showgirls certainly seem to do a lot of this...
  • My Girl Is a Slut: The showgirls tell Vivian she has to lose her virginity fast, otherwise men won't want to be with her if they think they're the first ones. Contrast that with...
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: When Vivian has to move back home after her scandal, she reveals to a man she dates that she is not a virgin. He asks her if she was raped, and she implies by omission that she was. It's clear he would have rejected her if she had had sex of her own volition before.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Vivian makes wedding dresses, so of course there are many of these. The costumes she makes for Peg's theatre troup also often count.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Celia Ray (and Vivian to an extent) are described this way. It seems to be part of Celia's appeal and her Bette Page-like beauty.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Boy howdy. Vivian gets the ultimate one from her brother, as he is driving her home after her scandal forces her to leave New York.
  • Safety in Indifference: Frank acts like this towards his daughter, fearing that his mental illness will affect her badly if he becomes too close to her.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Poor, poor Frank. His PTSD manifests as a neurological disorder that makes him intensely claustrophobic, and extremely restless to the point that he needs to walk or move constantly. He became a beat cop simply so he could walk all the time.
  • The So-Called Coward: Frank believes he is a coward, because he was blown into the water during the attack on his ship during the war, and that's how he survived. Doesn't help that his commander has also been spreading the story that the survivors who ended up in the water were deserters and jumped in of their own volition, which is a story to cover the commander's own incompetence.
  • Survivor's Guilt: Again...poor, poor Frank. Most of the other members of his naval unit did not survive a kamikaze attack, and the fact that Frank did causes him great pain.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Vivian gets three, first when Edna, the wife of the man Vivian slept with, gives her a thorough dressing-down after she finds out that Vivian slept with her husband, telling Vivian she is not an interesting person, just "a type of girl." Then her brother Walt chews her out for disgracing the family by having a threesome and getting caught by the paparazzi, and then when she's older Peg gives her one when she walks away from Frank, a World War II veteran, upon realizing he once insulted her when they were younger.

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