I reread Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk last week. It was just as good the second time around. Here is my original review from April 2017.
by Kathleen Rooney
St. Martin's Press, 2017
Summary: (from goodreads)
It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.
As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.
A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.
Meandering, thoughtful, light on plot. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, a novel about a woman and the city she cherishes, is truly a delightful read.
I opened the book, discovered endpapers imprinted with a map of Manhattan detailing Lillian's journey, and instantly fell in love.
On New Year's Eve in 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish takes a long walk around Manhattan. From her Murray Hill apartment, to Battery Park, St. Vincent's Hospital, and eventually Macy's in Herald Square, with stops at restaurants, a bodega, a house party in Chelsea, and Penn Station, the walk chronicles her interactions with old friends and random strangers, as well as her ruminations on life and the city she loves.
Not all that much actually happens in this novel, but Lillian's interactions with clerks, restaurant patrons, and would-be muggers will make you laugh and may even bring a tear to your eye. I especially enjoyed her reflections on career (she was a Macy's advertising executive in the 1930s), love, marriage, and motherhood.
By the way, Lillian Boxfish is loosely based on the life of Margaret Fishback. Don't miss the author's note at the end.
Pearls of wisdom from Lillian:
“No one survives the future.”
“Time only goes in that one direction.”
“Any day you walk down a street and find nothing new but nothing missing counts as a good day in a city you love.”
“Here’s some free advice: Make an honest assessment of the choices you’ve made before you look askance at somebody else’s.”
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested.”
“If you love something, know that it will leave on a day you are far from ready.”
“... my true religion is actually civility. Please note that I do not call my faith “politeness.” That’s part of it, yes, but I say civility because I believe that good manners are essential to the preservation of humanity— one’s own and others’— but only to the extent that that civility is honest and reasonable, not merely the mindless handmaiden of propriety.”