The book starts with the protagonist, Vivian Morris, writing a letter to Angela, a secondary character. I have always cherished whoever can write a letter, as I do not know many people who can actually do it. At this point of the book Vivian has aged and she is planning to recall her own story only to answer one single question from Angela. “Vivian, Angela wrote, “given that my mother has passed away, I wonder if you might now feel comfortable telling me what you were to my father?”
This is a beautiful and interesting story happening in the 1940s. Vivian is a girl born in the suburbs of Utica —in the State of New York— in a strict, conservative family. She does not seem to share a strong connection with her mother and father, both very attached to the patriarchal, religious, conservative rules of the place they lived their whole lives. When Vivian dropped off school, it completely broke the weak bond they had as a family, including her brother, who was a Princeton student, always fond of his parents, his country, the strict rules in which they lived by.
Vivian had a talent learnt from her grandmother, whom she adored. Sewing. Auntie Peg, her father’s sister who had a little theatre company, showed up at their front door one day to suddenly invite her to work with her in New York and change her life forever. New York was completely different scenario from what she had ever known. There she met the showgirls, actors and directors, all sophisticated, all celebrities with enormous talent and egos. Life was crazy, full of sex, alcohol, parties and romance, but also treason and disappointment. Different characters started surrounding the protagonist as she dives through a lot of situations and emotions that drove her into a fast paced spiral that at the end she couldn’t control. After losing everything and everyone she went back home where she played the part of an obedient young lady and got engaged. But her true self was calling her and the moment Aunty Peg showed up on her front door again she left her home town, and her parents, forever.
World War II had installed the suffering all over country. New York was not an exception. It was beautiful and sad at the same time, to see Vivian’s description of the war and the struggle of people who were not fighting in Europe, but had lost someone or something because of it. The days were dark, empty and sad, especially for art and the theatre. But it was a significant and important stage for this novel, because it was the transition for Vivian in which she lost people she loved but she met new ones that would mark her until the end of her days.
Angela’s father. He came in the less expected way. He was from the past, where he passed quickly but leaving a trace on Vivian. When he came back it was to stay. But he was not a lover, not entirely a friend, nor family. A complicated relationship, beautiful, magical and full of forgiveness.
I admire Elizabeth Gilbert, the amazing storyteller she is. She has always been. Since Eat, Pray, Love. Since Big Magic. But this book, different to her previous ones, is full of fiction and fantasy. You can see in this book how Mrs. Gilbert has evolved in her way of writing, in her way of constructing characters and dialogs. In constructing beginnings and finals.
An outstanding novel. 100% recommended. Luz