Friday, January 3, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles


On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Hardcover, 335 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by Viking Adult (first published 2011)
ISBN  0670022691 (ISBN13: 9780670022694)

About the Author
from his website

Born in 1964, Amor Towles was raised in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale College and received an M.A. in English from Stanford University where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. From 1991-2012, he worked as an investment professional in New York. He continues to live in Manhattan with his wife and two children and serves on the boards of the Library of America, the Yale Art Gallery and the Wallace Foundation.

Mr. Towles is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

His novel, Rules of Civility, was published by Viking/Penguin in July 2011 and reached the bestseller lists of The New York Times, the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. The book was rated by The Wall Street Journal as one of the ten best works of fiction in 2011. The book’s French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. The book has been published in 15 languages. In the fall of 2012, the novel was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film.

Mr. Towles’s novella, Eve in Hollywood, which follows one of the characters from Rules of Civility, was published by Penguin as an ebook in June 2013.

Mr. Towles’s only other published work is a short story cycle called “The Temptations of Pleasure” published in 1989 in Paris Review 112.

My Thoughts
On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art-- the first exhibit of the portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.
I'm doing a "quick" review of this book, only because I got sidetracked and didn't review this one quickly after reading it back in October, and now too much time has passed for me to do a thorough review (I can never remember details for long). And this is sad, because I really loved this book.

This book was the November selection for my book club, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. The characters were so well fleshed out, and there were layers to each of them. There were a lot of characters, yet all of them were invaluable to the story.

One of my favorite characters was that of Anne Grandyn ("godmother" to Tinker). A powerful and confident older woman, she runs into the main character Katey at the race track, and gives her a little advice. Pointing to a couple nearby, she tells Katey about Jake and his fiance Carrie, and how hard Carrie worked to get her position by Jake's side. In a day when women had fewer expectations or options in life than to be a wife and mother, or a decorative adornment on a wealthy man's arm, Anne advises Katey to have loftier pursuits.
"...But if I were your age, I wouldn't be trying to figure out how to get into Carrie's shoes-- I'd be trying to figure out how to get into Jake's."
That encapsulates Anne Grandyn perfectly.

There were many little tidbits that I felt showed brilliant insight into the human condition.
It’s a bit cliche to refer to someone as a chameleon: a person who can change his colors from environment to environment. In fact, not one in a million can do that. But there are tens of thousands of butterflies: men and women like Eve with two dramatically different colorings-- one which serves to attract and the other which serves to camouflage-- which can be switched at the instant with a flit of the wings.
There is an oft-quoted passage in Walden, in which Thoreau exhorts us to find our pole star and to follow it unwaveringly as would a sailor or a fugitive slave...the real problem, it has always seemed to me, is how to know in which part of the heavens your star resides.
“If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.”
And there was one passage that one of the book club members read out loud as one that struck a chord with her. 
If only someone had told me about the confidence-boosting nature of guns, I’d have been shooting them all my life.
Funny thing is that this was a quote that really struck a chord with the women in the club who have shot a gun-- even those that have always thought themselves pacifists. That includes myself.

My final word: I loved this book! The characters were so full and rich, that I mentioned at our book club that I could read additional books based on each of the other characters. Brilliant, sweeping, intriguing, fast moving. This is one grand tale!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:
The 110th Rule of Civility “Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.” 

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