Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

This was a tremendously enjoyable book, not quite a skewering of 1930s New York social elite, but not quite a full embrace of the idea that the rich are different either.

On New Year's Eve in 1937, Katey Kontent, a secretary at a law firm struggling to make ends meet, and her boardinghouse roommate, the more flamboyant and daring Eve Ross, head to a jazz club in Greenwich Village to try and make their few dollars last past midnight. By chance, they meet up with dashing Tinker Grey, a banker with a wild side. The three form an amusing, competitive, and unusual friendship, as both women compete—both consciously and unconsciously—for Tinker's affections.

When an event occurs that inextricably links the three of them in ways they hadn't planned, Katey finds herself being drawn into New York society. Smart and ambitious, yet romantic and just as desiring of a life that others have, she knows she doesn't quite fit in but she enjoys the ride. And over the course of a year, Katey makes some interesting allies and enemies, deals with unresolved romantic feelings, is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the society life around her, and realizes she must rely on her brains and her sense of humor as much as her looks.

"But for me, dinner at a fine restaurant was the ultimate luxury. It was the very height of civilization. For what was civilization but the intellect's ascendancy out of the doldrums of necessity (shelter, sustenance and survival) into the ether of the finely superfluous (poetry, handbags and haute cuisine)?"

Rules of Civility is part social satire and part comedy of manners, as well as a profile of a unique woman who finds herself in circumstances she hadn't really wished for but didn't necessarily want to part with once she had found them. What I liked about this book was Amor Towles' way of examining these individuals, foibles and all, but not making them look like buffoons, but rather the sensitive, flawed people they were. His characters are complex and tremendously interesting—you may not have wondered what life was like in the late 1930s in New York society, but these characters and Towles' plot make it worth the exploration.

While nothing immensely earth-shattering happens in this book, it's quite interesting and quite engrossing. You may have seen similar stories, but in the hands of Amor Towles, it feels a bit unique and very enjoyable.

1 comment:

  1. 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.