“For however inhospitable the wind, from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise–that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving.” Amor Towles, RULES OF CIVILITY
RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles was published last month. I bought it because it’s gotten rave reviews and because I love a good period piece, particularly when it is set during the thirties in New York. Even with my high expectations, this book exceeded them in every way.
RULES OF CIVILITY is the New York story of Katey Kontent–the young, sharp daughter of a Russian immigrant–and the rise and fall of the people around her. The cast of characters in her orbit are a fascinating bunch. Some of the key players are: Eve, the sassy, opportunistic roommate; Tinker, the friendly, wealthy man-about-town; Wallace, a young man of old money and deep sincerity; and Anne, a shrewd socialite and self-made queen of Manhattan.
Katey, Eve, and Tinker meet over jazz and booze and begin a casual friendship that becomes much more after a terrible accident. Duty and obligation bind them to each other while Katey tries to find a place for herself in New York’s elite, wealthy crowd. Her intelligence and decision making gradually take her from a modest secretarial job to a career she loves, but she learns along the way–the hard way–that less is in her control than she believes.
Katey is a new all-time favorite character in literature of mine. Her wit, authenticity, charm, and cool in all situations make her a brilliant, larger-than-life protagonist. I cared about Katey from the beginning and wanted her to succeed. One of the things I found most fascinating about her character is that the author is a man but writes so securely and believably as a woman. I haven’t seen this so well done since Wally Lamb’s SHE’S COME UNDONE.
What I also loved about RULES OF CIVILITY were the continual surprises. I did not predict anything that happened. I could not guess how any of it turned out. The plot and setting felt fresh, and I found myself rooting for even the villains in the book because each character was so layered and well done. I understood everyone’s motivations and actions, and all of it felt believable.
Each scene in RULES played as vividly as a movie in my imagination, and I hope to see a film version some day. I saw the cast of AN EDUCATION as the characters in the story and I could almost hear the soundtrack of thirties jazz and swing.
RULES OF CIVILITY is my favorite kind of book and I’ll be singing its praises for all who will listen. Pick up a martini, put on some old jazz, and allow yourself to get lost in Katey Kontent’s world.