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
This surprised me - I really enjoyed it. The atmosphere of the '30s came through for me, with a couple minor flaws ("paralegals"? - not sure if they were called that back then, but oh well). The characters were good, and the story interesting. My grandmother was around the same age as Katie, and I liked picturing her as a young woman through this story. Everyone smoked and drank! Inside! Of course, Rebecca Lowman, as usual, gave a pitch-perfect performance.
An elegantly written novel about a young woman's life-changing year. The prose intimately describes the New York City of 1938 - its nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels - so well that the reader is transported to that time and place. A thoroughly enjoyable book with interesting and well developed characters with the city itself being one of the most memorable. Towles' descriptions make the listener feel a part of the scene - we are there having a martini with Katey and her friends. The novel also depicts the wealthy strata of New York as seen through Katey's eyes. An afterword lists George Washington's "Rules Of Civility", an apt title for this book.
The narrator was excellent - good enunciation and voicing of the characters.
I wanted more of Eve's story
I would be willing to try another book from this author depending on the subject matter. I enjoyed all the NYC references in Rules of Civility.
No I don't believe it needs a follow up book. They ended the story with closure.
One of the very best. It swept me in. The characters were so beguiling.
The richness of the characters. I could envision each and every one of them - what they looked like, what they wore, what they sounded like, how they interacted with each other. Their names were all so fabulous. I loved to say them aloud using my best Long Island lock jaw!
Ann - because she was such a spoiler.
This would make an Oscar-worthy movie. I hope someone is working on the screenplay!
Excuse my review if it isn't specific to character or riveting turns of fate (though it is). This is a book I never would have picked for myself ..... it was my Bookclub Choice. I only hoped it was not as slow as I found "The Language of Flowers". It couldn't have been more true!
This book drew me in...to the characters....New York City in the Era....and turns of fate that drive the characters to make " Proper & Civil" decisions that follow them through the ends of the lives..
I write this review now appx.. 3 years after listening to , "Rules" , and even now when I see the Book.....I find myself remembering how much I enjoyed it., sort of mentally playing some scene, or thinking of the characters in the book. and how fate defined them.
As an afterword; when the book was releases, there was a website that brought you back to that time in New York, even putting together a list of songs that could be played while listening. and though much later than was written or published, George Washington 's "100 Rules of Civility" (printed in the back of the book) resonates through the book in the many situations that were resolved.....With the Art of Civility.
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.
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