Rules of Civility Author:Amor Towles Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-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... more » 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.« less
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Incredible novel. It captures very well what I imagine to be the social strata of 30s NYC--as effectively as Fitzgerald. Other reviews say that the theme of the book is personal choices and how those choices often have far-reaching implications in our lives. As one born into the lower middle class who later migrated to NYC, for me it is all about access and its price.
The two main female characters, boarding house roommates who dream of breaking into the upper class, get an opportunity to dip their toes in the water of the very rich and privileged. But they find that true access or full immersion sometimes can cost aspirants their souls.
Caution: a side effect of this novel is that you will crave a martini while reading it.
Rules of Civility would make a better life than it would a book; I found myself wishing I was living the story rather than reading it. Who wouldn't want to be a twenty-something single gal, falling in step with the rich, young crowds, drinking gin all night and talking late-1930's smack? Who wouldn't want the fast thrill of falling in love in a thriving Manhattan with men like Jay Gatsby? Well, therein lies the novel's problem: it's all fun and games. As exhausted as I am of reading about folks struggling to live and eat and deal with physical suffering and man's inhumanity to man, that's essentially what makes a story compelling and why we pick it up over and over. I had trouble picking this one up because I knew that each time I did there would just be a new party in the back of a Bentley.
Fortunately, this was exactly the book I needed at this point in my life, so I will rate it higher than I ordinarily would. I needed this kind of "First World Problem" as a plot. I needed the sparkle and dazzle of Manhattan to put stars in my eyes and remind me that the entire world isn't so bad all of the time. In that way, the novel is uplifting and I freely recommend it if you want a pleasant read that won't make you want to throw yourself on the floor and cry in grief about the injustice in the world.