Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Published by: Viking
Published on: July 26, 2011
Page Count: 352
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: eGalley downloaded from NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Katey Kontent, the orphan of a Russian immigrant, lives with her roommate Eve in a boardinghouse in New York City. She is one of many secretaries for a conservative law firm. On New Year’s Eve 1937. Because their curfew is extended, they splurge and go out for the night to a Greenwich Village jazz bar. There, they run in Tinker Grey, a handsome young banker. This chance encounter with a man of means changes the path for both young women as they learn the ropes of having a life of privilege in New York City.
Amor Towles writing caught a hold of my imagination from the beginning. You have a comfortable well-to-do couple entering their golden years in an art gallery. Katey notices a photo in the exhibit from the 1930s and recognizes him immediately. It’s Tinker Grey. Val, her husband, recognizes the name and she doesn’t provide more details about her own relationship with Tinker. It’s not that her memories would hurt their marriage. Far from it. What she wants is to keep them all to herself. Going in to her story with Tinker, one knows that they will not be together forever, but that makes the allure of their story that much more great.
Shortly after Katey and Eve meet Tinker, they are involved in an accident which separates Katey from her friends. The chapters without Eve slowed down the book for me. I was most interested in Katey when she was playing off another character. I felt stranded with her without Eve, Katey felt stranded herself. She was just getting used to those glimpses of the good life that living in a small apartment living on a secretary’s salary. That touch was all it took to mold Katey’s goals for her future. She does all that she can to build herself up without compromising her roots.
The novel’s title is quite appropriate. Rules are everywhere. There are rules governing life in the boardinghouse, acceptable conduct at work in the secretarial pool, for attending parties and for crashing them and for advancing one’s social status. Some of my favorite quotes from the book contain the wisdom that Katey picks up along the way. This quote is my favorite “rule:”
Which is just to say, be careful when choosing what you’re proud of–because the world has every intention of using it against you.
Not all of the passages I marked were rules. In some cases they were truths:
I guess there are two sides to every story. And, usually, they’re both excuses.
Some are simply eloquent:
I suppose we don’t rely on comparison enough to tell us whom it is that we are talking to. We give people the liberty of fashioning themselves in the moment–a span of time that is so much more manageable, stageable, controllable than is a lifetime.
Rules of Civility is reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It shows how much has changed since the glory days of the 20s and what had not. The loss of innocence left in its wake a breath of freedom that characters like Eve and Katey were able to use to their advantage. In the heat of the summer, Towles prose and his settings were a welcome escape. There was no need to try to imagine myself at the jazz clubs, parties or high rise offices. I was already there. Why don’t you join me?
Rules of Civility Giveaway
Viking is graciously allowing me to give away one copy of (US and Canadian residents only). They have also created a recipe for the perfect cocktail to have by your side as you read the novel.
Before you start mixing your drinks, leave a comment here for a chance to win. Please include your Twitter name if you have one. To be eligible, your comment must be received by 11:59EST on Friday, July 29. The winner will be chosen at random using List Randomizer. Good luck and let me know what you think of the drink.