Someone told Vivian Morris in her youth that she would never be an interesting person. Good thing they didn't put money on it.
The delightful narrator of Gilbert's (Big Magic, 2015, etc.) fourth novel begins the story of her life in the summer of 1940. At 19, she has just been sent home from Vassar. "I cannot fully recall what I'd been doing with my time during those many hours that I ought to have spent in class, but—knowing me—I suppose I was terribly preoccupied with my appearance." Vivian is very pretty, and she is a talented seamstress, but other than that, she is a silly, naïve girl who doesn't know anything about anything. That phase of her life comes to a swift end when her parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg. Peg is the proprietor of the Lily Playhouse, a grandiose, crumbing theater in midtown that caters to the tastes and wallets of the locals with week after week of original "revues" that inevitably feature a sweet young couple, a villain, a floozy, a drunken hobo, and a horde of showgirls and dancers kicking up a storm. "There were limits to the scope of the stories that we could tell," Vivian explains, “given that the Lily Playhouse only had three backdrops”: 19th-century street corner, elegant parlor, and ocean liner. Vivian makes a close friend in Celia Ray, a showgirl so smolderingly beautiful she nearly scorches the pages on which she appears. "I wanted Celia to teach me everything," says Vivian, "about men, about sex, about New York, about life"—and she gets her wish, and then some. The story is jammed with terrific characters, gorgeous clothing, great one-liners, convincing wartime atmosphere, and excellent descriptions of sex, one of which can only be described (in Vivian's signature italics) as transcendent. There are still many readers who know Gilbert only as a memoirist. Whatever Eat Pray Love did or did not do for you, please don't miss out on her wonderful novels any longer.
A big old banana split of a book, surely the cure for what ails you.