Amor Towles is approaching 50 and making a living as a principal at an investment firm. One wouldn’t expect his debut novel to be told from the perspective of a wise-cracking young lady of 25, but Towles is good at surprises. Katherine Kontent (“like the state of being”) is a legal secretary trying to climb the social ladder and squeeze all the juice out of Manhattan. She is the only slightly less seductive sidekick to Eve, who leaves her wealthy family behind to act like a mash-up of Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles and Truman Capote's Holly Golightly. It's the Upper East Side in the winter of 1939 — ripe for ripping off F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway or whatever writer you prefer from the era of roaring alcoholism, but Amor Towles doesn’t take the bait.
Neither does narrator Rebecca Lowman, who has good fun with the zippy dinner conversations while managing to keep Kate's sporting sense of dignity intact as both lovers and day jobs threaten to collapse her up-and-comingness. Lowman, who has a long string of television series bit parts from Will & Grace to Law & Order to her credit, slips easily into the everywoman role and adds notes of believable determination to our heroine's struggle for better circumstances. Who will marry Tinker Grey and who will get the promotion at Conde Nast are interesting plots, but none of this is the surprise — the plot surprise is all the more devastating.
Towles gives us some glitter, but he doesn't gloss, and that is the biggest surprise. The women in this book are fraught with the tremendous burden of appearing charming but unintelligent, and Lowman lets in enough sharp tones to give their dilemmas and revelations a substantial bite. Towles has fleshed out these familiar archetypes in a unique direction, so much more rich and thick than the flat characters with which novels of this time period are usually laden. Megan Volpert
A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising 25-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.
The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.
Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
Hear why Rules of Civility is Our Book of the Summer.
©2011 Amor Towles (P)2011 Penguin
I love reading books about New York, my home town, especially those set in another era, but this one almost put me to sleep. I can't help wondering whether the author just compiled a list of restaurants, landmarks, and fashion trends from 1930s New York and the devised a plot to loosely string them together. There was virtually no character development, but none of the characters had much substance or potential to begin with. The word that comes to mind to describe this novel is "thin." It was also kind of show-offy and superficial.
Make the characters more compelling. Create a real story with a clear conflict instead of just describing a series of boring escapades around town.
Her performance matched the insipid nature of the book. In that sense, she did a good job.
Yes - and I would read the actual book again also!
I don't want to spoil any of the plot - but it wasn't the moments or the plot that I loved about this book, it was the style and depth. It's not a book that centers around events and plot, but rather on themes - just like a Victorian social commentary.
I felt uplifted and refined by this book. I came away with more vocabulary words in my arsenal and with more literary tricks in my bag. I actual felt smarter after reading (listening to) this book.
I loved the way it was written and the cadence and voice of the main character
It was definitely not predictable.
I found this one to be excellent. I remember being young and taking everyone and everything at face value- only to discover, years later, that I missed the point entirely. The author beautifully captures the way the insights of adulthood slowly dawn people who are just starting their lives.
Great story - a good break for me as I am usually only tempted by mysteries.
This story never captured my attention. I even tried rewinding it and replaying chapters to see if I missed something. But sadly I hadn't. It's just boring. I have to wonder why Audible.com promoted it so heavily?
Do your self a big favor and listen to Middlesex instead. A much better alternative.
The characters were interesting but the story dull and far too slow.
Boredom, nothing but.
Maybe there is a big surprising, shocking ending - I didn't bother to find out. It would not have been worth listening to this dull story any longer.
What a beautifully written book, with language that paints such a rich and velvety picture of New York city in the 1930s. It is by far the best book I've listened to or read for a long while.
Although different genres obviously, this book leaves one with the same feeling one gets after reading something from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: that you've been on a journey outside your own life and have come back with a shiny trinket wrapped a little silk square.
I haven't listened to any other performances, but will certainly look now to see what else she's done.
I wouldn't. It's the perfect name for this book.
Buy this book ... give it a chance and stick with it through the first few chapters. I promise you'll be richly rewarded at the end.
I love the description of New York in the 1930's, the narrator sounds like Kate Walsh and the lead is s
I don't have time to answer all of these questions.
Look upward and see the wonders I've seen
A friend who has a 2 out of 5 rating with suggestions for me, suggested this book. I was hesitant at first, but after half an hour I was hooked! A really enjoyable story. Having just read The Great Gatsby and being throughly disappointed, this is what I expected Gatsby to be. The writing was crisp, the characters wonderfully flawed and our protagonist interesting. I hope the author writes more books.
I liked the point of view of the protaganist Kate. She was very direct and not whiny or dramatic.
She is a really good narrator. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance of the characters.
What The Great Gatsby should have been...
A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!
Towles immediately invites you to be a fly on the wall and meet Kate Kontent (the state of being, not the sum of what is in your purse) as and her friend set out to ring in 1938. You are there throughout the year--the great triumphs and the painful lows. You root for Kate through each turn and in the end you are satisfied, because Kate finally finds what she's looking for.
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