NYC Recent Reads

New York is always an intriguing backdrop for a story, and these are three of my favorite recently-published novels set in the city.

CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert
After being kicked out of college, 19-year-old Vivian Morris heads to Manhattan in the 1940s. She moves in with her Aunt Peg, who owns the Lily Playhouse, a colorful, crumbling theater. By day Vivian earns her keep as a costumer, and by night she tears up the town with her new showgirl best friend. But when she makes a personal mistake that threatens the viability of the theater, she leaves town in a cloud of scandal. In the second half of the story, an older, wiser Vivian returns to New York, where she discovers her own versions of love and family. City of Girls is centered around strong female characters, challenging traditional gender roles and relationships, and the story is so vibrant and vividly told that it practically bursts off the page.

On New Year’s Eve in 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish strolls Manhattan, visiting places that were pivotal to her. Chapters alternate between present and past as she reminisces about her long, eventful life—including a groundbreaking career as a copywriter at the iconic Macy’s department store—which took some unexpected turns and sometimes veered into dark territory. LILLIAN is my favorite kind of story, quirky and bittersweet. The title character is based on Margaret Fishback, the highest paid female advertising copywriter of the 1930s.

Rules of Civility follows Katey Kontent, a smart, witty, ambitious young woman, through the working world and into the New York social circle in the late 1930s, beginning with a chance encounter at a Greenwich Village jazz bar on New Year’s Eve. Not only are there echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton, whose tales are infused with glamour and grief, literary lovers will appreciate the abundance of bookish references throughout. “I’ve come to realize,” muses Katey, “that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine.”