Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

30th January 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

…America had picked up the globe by the heels and shaken the change from its pockets….So all of us were drunk to some degree. We launched ourselves into the evening like satellites and orbited the city two miles above the Earth, powered by failing foreign currencies and finely filtered spirits. We shouted over the dinner tables and slipped away into empty rooms with each other’s spouses, carousing with all the enthusiasm and indiscretion of Greek gods. And in the morning, we woke at 6:30 on the dot, clearheaded and optimistic, ready to resume our places behind the stainless steel desks at the helm of the world.

Though this quote opens the novel in the 1960s, it’s apt for just about any generation, and it’s so lovely, so absolutely sad and lovely, that I had to include it, though it’s a bit long.

At a Walker Evans photography show in the 60s, Katey Kontent sees two photographs of Tinker Grey, one where he’s gaunt and very obviously broke and another where he’s dressed to the nines, handsome and smiling. Katey tells her husband she once knew him, and he points out that Tinker must have done well for himself when Katey corrects him and tells him the latter picture was in 1938, the former in 1939.

Katey then recalls the fateful night she met Tinker Grey in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, New Year’s Eve, 1937. One night of fun and champagne, and both Katey and her best friend Eve are smitten with Tinker’s charm and his obvious affluence. There is a desperation, particularly in Eve, that makes each scene with her feel electrified. When the three are together in a horrible accident, they are separated, unable to relate to one another, Eve’s electricity pitch high. On her own and a bit in love with Tinker, Katey thrives without Eve, meeting new people and slowly coming into her own.

This is the kind of New York City tale I love. Poor girl tries hard, and with a bit of grit, gains a whole lot of glamour. The descriptions of the girls and their rooms reminded me of the 1937 RKO film Stage Door, in which Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball all make appearances as aspiring actresses. Here, as in that film, Katey and Eve are young and flippant, full of sharp dialogue and sharper dreams.

And if you couldn’t already tell, I adored this book.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

  • I’m dying to read this but what is up with the names?!

    • You know, until you mentioned the names, the only one that irked me was Katey Kontent. Sounds like a name from a comic book. But eh, the others didn’t bother me. Tinker is such a fitting name for the character.

  • Yvette

    Thought I might read this. LOVE the quote you included. That is some fine writing.
    I’m adding it to my list for the year. It sounds the sort of book that might be a bit depressing in the end (we were just talking about depressing books and films over at Patti Abbott’s blog) but really, great writing trumps depressing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It is some fine writing. And honestly, it isn’t depressing. It’s realistic, and yes, that can be depressing, but the tone of the book isn’t, by all means. I hope you enjoy it!

  • I’ve seen this one everywhere, but honestly I haven’t paid it much attention until I read that passage. Love love love it.

    • Isn’t it great? It was one of those I thought I’d get to eventually, and I’m so glad I did.

  • Aparatchick

    I absolutely adored this book. It’s so well written – a pleasure to read. If you can find a copy, it’s worth taking a look at the original Walker Evans book (“Many Are Called”) that has all the photos that inspired the book. It’s fascinating.

    • I’m a big fan of Walker Evans, so I knew from the very beginning I’d likely enjoy this book. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I’ve heard this is very F Scott Fitzgerald and since he is one of my favorites, I know I will have to pick this one up soon!

    • It is, but more because of the time period than anything else. I think F. Scott is just one of those icons of the 20s and 30s, so a lot gets compared to him.

  • heidenkind

    I haven’t even heard this one. I guess I’ve been out of the loop!

    • Wow! I’m so shocked you haven’t heard of this one. I felt like everyone had read it but me.

  • I haven’t heard of this one, either. I love the quote, though. Such rich, vibrant language. Is the whole book like that?

    • Becca, it really is. I loved the writing.

  • Charlie

    The writing is really nice, and the plot sounds quite unique. Can’t say why exactly, there’s just something about the way you’ve written about it. I’ve favourited the Goodreads page, thinking it might make a nice sudden purchase.

    • Thanks, Charlie! This is one I looked at for a long time but never picked up, thinking it would be derivative of The Great Gatsby. It wasn’t at all. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • I loved this book too – it is simply captivating. Some of the best female characters written by a male author I have come across.

    • Captivating is a great way to describe it. And I didn’t think about it, but you’re so right about the female characters.

  • Oh, I loved this book too! Great choice of quote. I’m glad you liked this as much as I did. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • This quote is just so perfect. Great book.

  • I really love this time period too and actually wish there was more out there. This book has been on my to-read list and I can’t wait to get it. On the other hand, I recently tried the YA book, “The Diviners” that took place in NY in the 1920s and I wanted to hang myself. This looks much better. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m not a Libba Bray fan, but I’d heard good things about The Diviners and was hoping it was decent. I mean, like you said, there’s not a ton out there set in that time period.

      Darn. Guess she’s not going to be a winner for me.

  • I’m trying not to know anything about this book before I read it but I’m so glad to hear you say you adored it. I have it on the shelf–just need to find a empty slot of time to fit it in.

  • I LOVED this book! To win a free copy of “Rules of Civility” follow the link below!

  • Nadia Santos

    Towles eschews easy outs, such as a Katey/Eve reunion, and instead plows ahead to a place unknown, then delightfully evident. I cared about the world and people Towles created, such was his masterful prose.

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