TITLE: Rules of Civility
AUTHOR: Amor Towles
Goodreads / Author's Website
Rules of Civility is one of those books that's been sitting on my to be read list sine it first came out, but I just never got around to you know, actually reading it. Last week I was at this bookstore which happened to be having a major sale and lo and behold this book was on the discount pile. I had to pick it up. Really. No choice whatsoever. I am so glad I finally read this book. It was sharp, witty and I don't know why it's taken me this long to finally take a look at it.
Towles explores depression era Manhattan in Rules of Civility, but the book does more than that. This is the story of one year in the life of Katey Kontent, a young secretary from Brooklyn trying to make it in the big city when times are hard to begin with. She finds the Upper East Side, weaves her way into society circles and discovers how loss and opportunity are so often intertwined. Kontent drinks her way through parties, making all the rash decisions one expects from a story about the high life. This gin soaked, youthful world is so beautifully written about that it almost makes me nostalgic for a time I certainly never experienced.
One of the things I loved about this book is the writing. Katey is reflecting on 1938 from 1966, she's aged and matured, but looks fondly upon the year that completely changed her life. The dialogue and narrative are sharp, creating a tone that perfectly encapsulates what I think of when I think old timey, high society. This is the world made famous in Katherine Hepburn and Carey Grant movies, it's the cabs and the rain and the coffee shops and jazz clubs. This world is created so vividly that I as a reader couldn't helped but be drawn in.
The details given to the setting don't detract from the story, they only enhance it. It's the world that sets the tone, but the characters who create the story and these characters do not disappoint. Katey is young and ambitious. She loves the dive jazz clubs, but discovers a taste for fine dining and nights spent on the Upper East Side. She's perfectly happy living in a boarding house with her roommate and best friend Eve, but one night everything changes. On New Year's Eve the two girls meet Tinker Grey, a wealthy young man, at a jazz dive. Their world is completely changed as we watch these three people try to carve a place out for themselves in a quickly changing world. Names change and personalities adapt. Reinvention is the key.
It's heartbreaking and riveting.
I loved this book because it made me feel. It was a different era, but the story is timeless. It all boils down to three twenty somethings trying to find themselves and the mistakes they make along the way. It's heartbreaking to see friendships unravel and lovers disappear, but the heartbreak is contrasted so beautifully with the successes. There's always a tinge of nostalgia for what's lost along the way and I think that's what Towles captures better than anything else.
I went into Rules of Civility expecting to love it and it lived up to my expectations. It's a charming, smart, witty story that moved me. Believe me when I say, it's not often that a book can actually move me.
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