Friday, February 16, 2018

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles ~ my review

10054335Oh my. Amor Towles’ elegant writing is such a pleasure to read. After reading his novel Rules of Civility, I could not possibly decide which I enjoy more, his metaphors or his observations. His scene one-page one commentary on why people at narrator Katey Kontent’s party were literally drunk reads: “In the 1950s, 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.” Such colorful, insightful descriptions continue as Katey’s 1938 flashback unfurls to reveal what happened to Tinker Grey.

Katey Kontent is as appealing a heroine as I’ve met in any novel. In her mid-twenties, Katey is one sharp cookie as she discerns that people and relationships are not always what they seem. She relates to friends Eve Ross, Tinker Grey and his brother Hank, Anne Grandyn, Wallace Wolcott, and other assorted characters with spunky honesty and genuine kindness. They dream; they dare each other; and they decide what to pursue and what to discard. Their deeds and misdeeds depict post-Depression New York City, youth in any era, lifestyles of different social strata.

What a buoyant year Katey had in 1938! In Rules of Civility, she remembers 1938’s loves and losses from her 1966 mature view of life’s choices. What might have happened? We’ll never know. One thing we do know is that Katey Kontent’s memories of 1938 are vibrant, pivotal, and altogether fascinating—some tinged with rusty regret, some gilt with grandeur.

“And for the moment, we let ourselves imagine that we were still in Max’s diner—with our knees knocking under the tabletop and seagulls circling the Trinity steeple and all the brightly colored possibilities dangled by the New Year still within our reach. Old times, as my father used to say: If you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.” [page 75 in my edition]

Adding to the delights of this novel is its Appendix: “Young George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” You’ll just have to read the book to find out why it’s included.

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