Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
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 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.
Having loved the other book I read by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, I was excited when my book club selected Rules of Civility. Though I didn’t actually end up finishing the book in time for our meeting, I was enjoying it so much I continued reading and finished the book.
Definitely if you liked A Gentleman in Moscow, you will like this book. But if you liked lighter fare like Gossip Girl and Summer at Tiffany, you will probably like this story too, which explores three years in the life of young Katey Kontent as she comes of age in the New York of yesteryear and rubs elbows which the upper crust of society.
Filled with the dense, lovely prose I’ve come to expect from Amor Towles, the story unfolds as a tapestry of characters every bit as rich and complex as the city itself. Katey herself is a strong woman who possesses a steely will and a self-assuredness we can all hope to aspire to. Though at times I wasn’t sure I was confident in the reasons why Katey made certain decisions, I was always confident that she was confident in what she was doing. Which is refreshing to see in any character, let alone a character walking around seventy years ago.
The same care and attention to detail was paid to all of the other principal characters: Tinker, Eve, Dicky, Wallace, Bitsy. Though none of the others got as much screen time as Katey, coming and going with the turning seasons of her life, each was unique and fully fleshed.
Overall, this was lovely read from Amor Towles and even more impression for the fact that it was his debut novel. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future!