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Rules of Civility: A Novel | [Amor Towles]

Rules of Civility: A Novel

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (1896 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Karen Chandler, AZ, United States 07-31-12
    Karen Chandler, AZ, United States 07-31-12 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved listening to this book"
    Any additional comments?

    While reading/listening to this story, I could really picture the 1930's in New York. It felt almost like I was there. And the way the author wrote it seemed to really fit with the times. It was also a really good story. The narrator did a great job, she was pleasing to listen to and did great with the various characters.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn 07-31-12
    Carolyn 07-31-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Leisurely Listen for Summer"
    Would you try another book from Amor Towles and/or Rebecca Lowman?

    Sure, I would probably try another.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    Rushed - but I was pleased with the ending.


    What aspect of Rebecca Lowman’s performance would you have changed?

    Nothing


    Could you see Rules of Civility being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    Kate - Sandra Bullock
    Tinker - Brad Pitt
    Eve - Charlize Theron


    Any additional comments?

    I realize this book represented a different class, is set in New York City and is fiction - but I would question so many women being unchaperoned and having sex during that era.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim United States 07-26-12
    Tim United States 07-26-12 Member Since 2011

    My reviews are honest. No sugar coating here.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Neutral Review"

    I have mix feelings as I write this review. A part of me wants to write a negative review about the author because there too many similes and it is a bit overwritten, but the narration from Rebecca Lowman is just smooth and not tiring to listen to. If you ever watched HBO's series "Girls", Amor Towles' first novel is very similar to the TV show, but its set in the 30's, also in Manhattan. Going to clubs, going to work, falling in love, something tragic happens and "The End", is pretty much the story of any book in this genre.

    I can see why there are so many raving reviews and I can also understand the opposite side. As for my comments for this review, I am neutral as I express my thoughts on this book. Having a good narrator is equally important as having good content. The audio publisher got this one right by getting the right person to perform this title. It's hard to find the right voice.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan S. San Francisco, CA United States 07-22-12
    Susan S. San Francisco, CA United States 07-22-12 Member Since 2006
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    "Great read"
    Would you listen to Rules of Civility again? Why?

    I rarely listen to books twice.


    Which character ??? as performed by Rebecca Lowman ??? was your favorite?

    She did them all well, but was better with the women, but did do a great Tinker Grey.


    Any additional comments?

    I avoided this book because it was a debut novel, and am sorry I waited so long. It is interesting that a male author has much better developed female characters than male characters, but it is still a wonderful story. I will look for more of Towles books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Caryl SPRING VALLEY, MN, United States 07-17-12
    Caryl SPRING VALLEY, MN, United States 07-17-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Well told about ordinary life in NY late 1930's"
    If you could sum up Rules of Civility in three words, what would they be?

    Bright intelligent women


    What other book might you compare Rules of Civility to and why?

    Fall on Your Knees, a picture of a life for a woman in her times.


    Which character – as performed by Rebecca Lowman – was your favorite?

    None in particular.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The imagine of Eve and Teddy and his shock at her news leaving him so adrift he runs the boat they are on ashore.


    Any additional comments?

    There were likely lots of women in this age who did not live up to the culture of a the women of that day.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. Laplante brainerd, mn USA 06-21-12
    R. Laplante brainerd, mn USA 06-21-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Dececent, enjoyable."

    Interesting and fun. A relaxing, engaging story. A nice peek into a different time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynne Jacksonville, FL, United States 06-21-12
    Lynne Jacksonville, FL, United States 06-21-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Good Story, Great Reader"
    What did you love best about Rules of Civility?

    Wonderful characters. The protagonist was a young lady about town in NYC with a natural touch of refinement. The reader's (Amor Towles) incredible voice, like cream, lent class and charm to the character.


    Any additional comments?

    I wish there were more books read by Amor Towles

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alison essex jct, VT, United States 06-03-12
    Alison essex jct, VT, United States 06-03-12 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fabulous!"

    I just loved this novel. It was one of the best that I've read in a while and I am a voracious reader. It is pleasantly dry and witty. The narrator has a beautiful voice and really brings each character to life. The novel is written just so that you have to think--but not so much that it is an academic exercise rather than an enjoyable novel. Looking forward to future works by this incredible author.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alice Wisconsin 05-06-12
    Alice Wisconsin 05-06-12 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The hardest work I've done lately"
    What disappointed you about Rules of Civility?

    The story was so boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, and it never did, in my opinion.


    What was most disappointing about Amor Towles’s story?

    I found it hard to care about the protagonist.


    Have you listened to any of Rebecca Lowman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    First and only book I'll get by her.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonnie 04-27-12
    Bonnie 04-27-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Tear for Stupidity – Mine"

    I bought it so I have to read it. It MIGHT get better. It DID NOT! One of the WORST books I have EVER seen to the end. You would think I would learn to cut my loses and run but…
    The reader is as droll as the book. It is not set in the depression years but the narration of both the book and reader would make you think it is. The nicest thing I can say about the book is that it is BORING. I loved the Great Gatsby which I think this was trying to emulate. I liked the Great Gatsby but this does not hold a candle. Oh, why did I waste my time and money? Stupidity. Next time I WILL cut my loses and run before wasting my time. That IS a promise to me. Let it be a promise to you who think of purchasing the dribble.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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