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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

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  •  
    Tim United States 07-26-12
    Tim United States 07-26-12 Member Since 2010

    My reviews are always pending.

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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 2009
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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 2001
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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 2004
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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 2012
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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 2009
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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 Denver, CO, United States 04-27-12
    Bonnie Denver, CO, United States 04-27-12 Member Since 2011
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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
  •  
    Tracy L. Walters Erda, UT, United States 04-26-12
    Tracy L. Walters Erda, UT, United States 04-26-12 Member Since 2002

    bubbles

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    "I must be one of the 'odd men out'...."

    ....because I really didn't think this book was that wonderful. It was fairly interesting and the characters were intriguing but I just felt it was a long....slow....story. There were never any real highs or lows.......just all even keel. I did like Katey Kontent and felt she was extremely intelligent and street smart. With no family to help her out she made her way into a world that is difficult to gain access to and made a grand life for herself. Tinker Grey was a great name and I thought that I might use it for the next pet I end up with. There was a lot of drinking and smoking going on back in the 30's and it made me wonder if anyone was ever sober or not partying.


    I was bored to tears with the 'Rules Of Civility' that were read at the end of the book.....OMG.....there were like 100 of them! At first they were a bit amusing.....then I just wanted it to END!!!....I only felt relief when the book was done.....no sadness that it ended or the want of pondering over the story. I was excited to read this but I ended up being bored and disappointed in a book that so many others have loved. I guess that is what makes life interesting....we all have our own opinions.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Claire Indio, CA, United States 11-05-11
    Claire Indio, CA, United States 11-05-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Boring"

    I've listened to some wonderful books such as the "Bloody Jack Series", Bryce Courtenay novels with that remarkable Humphrey Bower narrating and others. Part of what makes a book interesting is the narrator and I'm afraid this one just doesn't have it. Slow book, mediocre narrator...boring.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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