Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles
Viking Adult, 2011
source: library, but then purchased a copy for myself
Summary (from Goodreads):
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.
Months elapsed between reading Rules of Civility and gathering my thoughts for this post - a scenario that is far too common these days, I'm afraid. What is there to say now?
- I loved this book.
- I relished each and every sentence.
- I will read anything Amor Towles ever writes.
- In addition to the writing, I loved the atmosphere, setting, characters, and plot.
Can I elaborate further? No. I'm sorry.
Book club reaction:
Our discussion took place several months ago during the annual summer potluck dinner. To set the mood, we kicked off the evening with period cocktails from the 1930's. However, after a round (or three) of orange blossoms, the discussion never progressed beyond how much we all loved the book and how amazed we were that writing is not Amor Towels' day job. (He is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan.)
"The skyline at night is so breathtaking, and yet you could spend a whole lifetime in Manhattan and never see it. Like a mouse in a maze... Along whole avenues of the Lower East Side the sky was blotted out by elevated tracks and fire escapes and the telephone wires that had yet to be put underground. Most New Yorkers spent their lives somewhere between the fruit cart and the fifth floor. To see the city from a few hundred feet above the riffraff was pretty celestial. We gave the moment its due."
"Over Charlotte's shoulder I could see Rosie studying her nails. Fully figured with a penchant for forgetting to button the top button of her blouse, you could just tell that if Rosie couldn't romance her way to the top of the Empire State Building, she was prepared to climb it like King Kong."
"In the center of the table was a bowl of fruits so well-to-do- that half of them I'd never seen before. There was a small green furry sphere. A yellow succulent that looked like a miniature football. To get to Anne's table, they must have traveled farther than I had in traveled in my entire life."
"You look back with the benefit of age upon the dreams of most children and what makes them seem so endearing is their unattainability - this one wants to be a pirate, this one a princess, this one president. But from the way Tinker talked you got the sense that his starry-eyed dreams were still within his reach; maybe closer than ever."
"In out twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions - we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come."