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
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.
I am a New York musician, a New York native, and a passionate reader of fiction. Audible is helping me fill in some serious literary gaps.
Smart, engaging, surprising
Tinker--because we only see him through the other characters, and therefore learn about him slowly. He is a man with many secrets.
She captures the rhythm and tempo of every character's speech, and brings each one to life. She is no slowpoke, but she lingers just enough for the listener to absorb the details of Amor Towles's writing, especially the dialogue.
It held my interest and fascinated me from beginning to (almost the) end. I was struck by the way Towles can evoke highly erotic situations without getting graphic. Laugh? Cry? Not exactly. Hang on every word is more like it.
I think the end of the book--the longish "Rules of Civility"--might be better read off the page, rather narrated by a reader. It was the one disappointment of the novel, and not a serious lapse. The story itself came to a graceful conclusion.
I loved the narration of this book. The reader's voice was perfect, mature but with the tinge of youth that comes with reminiscence. The story was evocative of its era and place: Manhattan at the end of the Great Depression and just before war, struggling young people amidst the glamour and affluence of New York's society. A lovely novel, beautifully presented.
Unique, mesmerizing, superb
Too many to mention. I swear there wasn't one wasted scene, or even sentence in the novel. It was a wonderful journey.
Katie Kontent, of course.
Even better. It made me think.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. I'm a voracious reader and I'd put it in my top five. Of any category.
i loved this audio book - but what made it especially great was the narrator. i've listened to over 100 books and this narrator ranks up there with the top five. she nailed every charactor.
I am pretty picky when it comes to narrators....Rebecca Lowman does a fantastic job here. The story doesn't hurt either! Amor Towles does a fabulous job capturing a juicy slice of this era in American history...
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.
Sure, I would probably try another.
Rushed - but I was pleased with the ending.
Kate - Sandra Bullock
Tinker - Brad Pitt
Eve - Charlize Theron
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.
I don't write book reports.
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.
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