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427 of 454 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart and Soul, New York
If a novel could win an award for best cinematography, this would take home the gold. Amor Towles's sophisticated retro-era novel of manners captures Manhattan 1938 with lucid clarity and a silvery focus on the gin and the jazz, the nightclubs and the streets, the pursuit of sensuality, and the arc of the self-made woman.

The novel's preface opens in 1966,...
Published on July 26, 2011 by "switterbug" Betsey Va...

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317 of 378 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mystified by glowing reviews for this book
The reviews for "Rules of Civility" have been so glowing, I rushed to buy a copy. A novel about the young and reckless in 1930s New York? Sign me up! The author's story is also alluring -- somewhat advanced in years to be turning out a first novel, he has a career in a field unrelated to writing, and, in interviews, seems humbled by the book's early success. Good for him...
Published on September 5, 2011 by New York reviewer


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427 of 454 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart and Soul, New York, July 26, 2011
This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
If a novel could win an award for best cinematography, this would take home the gold. Amor Towles's sophisticated retro-era novel of manners captures Manhattan 1938 with lucid clarity and a silvery focus on the gin and the jazz, the nightclubs and the streets, the pursuit of sensuality, and the arc of the self-made woman.

The novel's preface opens in 1966, with a happily married couple attending a Walker Evans photography exhibition. An unlikely chance encounter stuns the woman, Katey--a picture of a man staring across a canyon of three decades, a photograph of an old friend. Thus begins the flashback story of Katey's roaring twenties in the glittering 30's.

Katey Kontent (Katya) is the moral center of the story, an unapologetic working girl--more a bluestocking than a blue blood-- born in Brighton Beach of Russian immigrant parents. She's an ambitious and determined statuesque beauty à la Tierney or Bacall who seeks success in the publishing industry. She works as hard by day as she plays at night. Her best friend, Eve (Evelyn) Ross, is a Midwest-born Ginger Rogers /Garbo character mix, with jazz cat spirit and a fearless, cryptic glamor. She refuses daddy's money and embraces her free spirit:

"I'm willing to be under anything...as long as it isn't somebody's thumb."

Katey and Eve flirt with shameless savoir-faire, and are quick with the clever repartees. They will kiss a man once that they'll never kiss twice, and glide with effortless élan among all the social classes of New York. Moreover, they can make a few dollars stretch through many a martini, charming gratis drinks from fashionable men. With their nerve and gaiety, the two would be equally savvy at Vanity Fair or the Algonquin Round Table, or in a seedy bar on the Lower East Side.

Eve and Katey meet the sphinx-like Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937, at the Hotspot, a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. Tinker's métier is Gatsby-esque--an inscrutable, ruggedly handsome man in cashmere, a mysterious lone figure with an enigmatic mystique. The three become fast friends, but as with many triangulating relationships, a hairline rivalry sets in. Then a cataclysmic tragedy shatters the cool grace of their bond, and their solidarity is ruptured.

Towles is spectacular at description and atmosphere, keeping a keen camera's eye on the city with a polished pedigree of writing that is rare in a debut novel. A smoky haze envelopes the streets and clubs and buildings, which the reader can't help surveying in all the rich colors of vintage black and white. The writing is dense, yet fluid and ambient, rich as a contralto, and cool as a saxophone. Tendrils of Edith Wharton flow through, as well as Fitzgerald, and echoes of Capote's Holly Golightly.

At times, the lush descriptions threaten to eclipse the story, and the characters recede. This is a book of manners, so the action resides in the conflict between individual ambitions and desires and the acceptable social codes of behavior between classes. However, the middle section stagnates, as one character hugs most of the narrative in repetitive days and nights, the psychological complexities dimming. It loses some steam as the taut thrill of the first half wanes, but an understated closure recharges it again.

Overall, the beauty of the novel endures, and the sensuality of the prose lingers. The reader is also edified on the origin of the title, and the author folds it in neatly to the story. The characters are crisp and contoured, delightful and satisfying, even if one left the stage a bit too soon. This is one male writer who finesses his female characters with impressive agility and assurance.
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188 of 209 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The masquerade of civility, July 26, 2011
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This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
Some books unfold at a leisurely pace and demand to be read in the same way -- nibbled and savored, the better to prolong the pleasure. Rules of Civility is one of those. It's a throwback novel, the kind in which unashamedly bright characters engage in impossibly witty conversations. The novel takes its name from the 110 rules that George Washington crafted during his teenage years. Katey Kontent eventually sees Washington's rules not as "a series of moral aspirations" but as "a primer on social advancement." They are the rules that shape a masquerade in the hope "that they will enhance one's chances at a happy ending." Ultimately Rules of Civility asks a serious question about Katey's observation: Are the behavioral rules that define "civility" simply a mask that people wear to conceal their true natures? Or are the rules themselves important, and the motivation for following them irrelevant?

The story begins in 1966 but quickly turns back to 1938, the most eventful year in Katey's life. Katey and her friend Eve meet Tinker Grey, a charming young banker, at a jazz club on New Year's Eve. Their blossoming three-way friendship takes an unexpected turn when Eve is injured in an accident while Tinker is driving. Tinker's apparent preference for Katey shifts to Eve as she recuperates. Months later, something happens to cause a change in their relationship, giving Tinker a more important role in Katey's life. Along the way, Katey's career is leaping forward: from reliable member of a law firm's secretarial pool to secretary at a staid publishing house to gofer and then editorial assistant at a trendy magazine. As Katey socializes with the well-to-do and the up-and-coming, she learns surprising secrets about the people in her life, including Tinker, and learns some things about herself, as well.

Katey is an outsider socializing with a privileged group of people (white, wealthy, and sophisticated), but she remains the grounded daughter of a working class Russian immigrant. She treasures her female friends. She neither hides nor flaunts her intelligence. She makes choices "with purpose and inspiration" although she comes to wonder about them in later years. Like most people who use their minds, she's filled with contradictions. Reading Walden, she values simplicity; she fears losing "the ability to take pleasure in the mundane -- in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath." At the same time, she enjoys fine dining and dressing well: "For what was civilization but the intellect's ascendancy out of the doldrums of necessity (shelter, sustenance, and survival) into the ether of the finely superfluous (poetry, handbags, and haute cuisine)?"

To varying degrees, the characters in this novel make mistakes (who doesn't?). As one character notes, "at any given moment we're all seeking someone's forgiveness." But when should forgiveness be granted? When does love require forgiveness? Towles avoids simplistic answers to these difficult questions; this isn't a melodrama in which characters ride out tragedies to arrive at a neat and happy ending. This is a nuanced novel that remains cautiously optimistic about life, crafted by a generous writer who sees the good in people who have trouble seeing it in themselves, a writer who believes people have the capacity for change.

Rules of Civility offers up occasional treats for readers in the form of brief passages from the books the characters are reading, snippets from Hemingway and Thoreau and Woolf, an ongoing description of an Agatha Christie novel. When Towles introduces a book editor as a character in the novel's second act, it seems clear that Towles shares the editor's old-fashioned respect for "plot and substance and the judicious use of the semicolon." Towles captures the essence of minor characters with a few carefully chosen words. In the same precise and evocative style he recreates 1938 Manhattan: neighborhoods, restaurants, fashions, and music. He writes in a distinctive voice, refined but street-smart, tailored to the era in which the novel is set. His dialog is sharp and sassy. The ending has a satisfying symmetry. If I could find something critical to say about this novel, I would, but I can't. I recommend it highly.
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317 of 378 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mystified by glowing reviews for this book, September 5, 2011
This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
The reviews for "Rules of Civility" have been so glowing, I rushed to buy a copy. A novel about the young and reckless in 1930s New York? Sign me up! The author's story is also alluring -- somewhat advanced in years to be turning out a first novel, he has a career in a field unrelated to writing, and, in interviews, seems humbled by the book's early success. Good for him! But then there is the book. Its main character and narrator, Katey Kontent, is supposed to be from Brooklyn, of a blue collar family. Her voice, on the other hand, is that of a young man from outside New York, perhaps a "good" Midwestern family -- dull but well-read. There is no Brooklyn whatsoever in Katey. It turns out to be her wild and wacky friend Eve who is from a "good" Midwestern family. Eve, for reasons unknown, ignores her parents or treats them abominably; runs away from friends and lovers; drinks too much; passes out almost dead on a regular basis; and is rude and generally unlikable. She is in a terrible car accident early on in the book, but she was rude and unlikable before that. Then there is Tinker, who appears to be a blue blood, but is not, though he might have been. Who cares? There is some sort of triangle among the three, though you never get any idea why any of them like each other. Chemistry? None. They keep running away, but always happening upon each other again. And speaking of chance encounters -- Katey Kontent never meets anyone of any significance whom she does not bump into again at a VERY IMPORTANT MOMENT. You would think New York had a population of 438. It becomes funny after a while in a way I'm sure the author did not intend. Many pages are filled with detailed descriptions of activities not essential to building plot or character, like building paper airplanes or shooting different types of guns. But lots of pages are filled. Also, everyone in the book drops Quotes From Famous Authors with alarming frequency. And everyone has a hidden talent! Singing, playing an instrument, building those very very elaborate paper airplanes. . . It must be difficult for an author to write about a time period with which he has had no real experience, and though there are some nice physical descriptions of the city in "Rules of Civility," the book overall feels forced and phony. In fact, I had to force myself to finish it. Then I went and had re-read "Turn, Magic Wheel," a much more satisfying novel about mid-century New York by the great Dawn Powell.
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109 of 131 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tale of love and friendship in a by-gone era, August 15, 2011
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"Rules of Civilty" written by Amor Towles is a "human interest" novel. It is the tale of the lives of several young adults during a year in 1938 when they were in their mid to late twenties.

The story is narrated by one of the characters, Katey Kontent, and is written in conversational style. The Novel begins with a prologue in 1966 about two candid pictures of one Tinker Grey, displayed at a photo showing in a museum display. The story then begins as a flashback to 1938 inspired by reminescence about the character.

The novel is written about the lives and associations of several "twenty something" young adults who meet as accidental acquaintances while enjoying the nightlife of New York City in 1938. The character engagement is replete with all the false loyalities, fierce frendships, desires and failings of young adults. The story pivots about the manipulation of Tinker Grey and his false persona that he conditions by adhering to the teachings of the novel's namesake "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavor in Company and Conversation" by George Washington.

I found the book to be only of my general liking. The author did not build any particular inspiration with me about any of the characters such as to leave me considerating any memorable aspects of the discourse or character development. I was initially piqued at the use of the extended hyphen to denote conversation. It felt like a finger continually poked in my eye. I did get over it, but it annoyed me for awhile. Otherwise the book is well written and the conversations natural. The descriptions of New York City and other locations were sufficiently well done in as much as the novel was about people not places.

In all, the book was not memorable for me. If I had put it down, I may not have ever finished it. There just wasn't anything that beckoned to spur me on with curiosity or otherwise. At times the conversation seemed boring.

Of my three classifications:(forgettable, pleasurable-not memorable, and memorable) I would rate it as pleasureable-not memorable.

I
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93 of 113 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dashiell Hammet rewrites The Great Gatsby, March 7, 2012
This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
Just finished "Rules of Civility."

It is "The Great Gatsby," complete with rules, parties, and even West Egg/East Egg for a scene or two. Toward the end, there's a last glimpse not of Daisy's dock and its green light, but of Gatsby/Tinker on a pier with a view of New York City and its lights.

And the narrator, Nick, from Gatsby is, in this book, Katey . . . a woman whose dialogue is so masculine, so Sam Spade-ish, that I could not get past it. For the first half-dozen pages, I really thought the narrator was a man. When the narrator's spouse turned out to be the one who was male, I had to go back and re-read from the beginning. Didn't really clear anything up, but Katey certainly talks man talk. Like Sam Spade. And if Dashiell Hammett had tried to write "The Great Gatsby," it might have turned out something like this. But with a better plot.

Here's some dialogue samples that kept me hearing Sam Spade and expecting to see Peter Lorre any moment: "Like most belligerent people, Hank was getting tiresome fast, so I had good reason to call it a night."

Katey's comment about a friend, "She had changed into high heels and a tangerine-colored blouse that clashed with all her good intentions," could have been Sam describing a tiresome female client.

When she says, "I found some unfinished wine and sampled it straight from the bottle. It tingled on the tongue like Sunday communion," I am seeing Sam Spade, not Katey Kontent. Likewise with "I found myself setting her straight," and "I gave those bastards who killed Clyde Barrow something to think about." And: "She was willing to be under anything, as long as it wasn't somebody's thumb."

I suppose I hear Sam Spade because hardboiled fiction makes use of snappy similes to describe people and places. This book is larded with them, sometimes several per page, even several per paragraph. I started keeping a list of them after a while for laughs:

-- denizens of the outer boroughs could clamber around like crabs in a pot
-- it angled in the air like a spear that's hit its mark
-- more flowers than at a funeral
-- like an executive in Bendel's boardroom signing off on the spring collection
-- as immobile as a statue
-- like the front lines of the Easter uprising
-- like the best-dressed newsroom in America
-- the stock looked as fine as the leg of a Chippendale
-- like the sound of someone biting on the blade of a knife
-- white like a whaling church in new england
-- boomed like a ship's cannon
-- girls laughing like gulls
-- she held it out to me like an Indian Chief
-- doors so blue they could have been fashioned from planks of heaven
-- the sky was Tiepolo blue
-- the kitchen was as clean and white as heaven

Best of all, in the space of just half a page, she describes herself both "like a wolf that's escaped its cage," and then "a little like a will-o'-the-wisp." Seriously??

Ah, and those are just a fraction of what's in store for the eager reader.

Yep, Katey's a tough cookie climbing the social ladder -- she saw a colleague leave confidential papers on a subway train they were sharing after work, and wasn't going to do anything about it until a lowly chambermaid shamed her into it. This scene, like several others, has nothing to do with anything that comes later as far as I can tell. But there are some paragraphs where the syntax or the sense of it all is so tangled that I couldn't tell what was going on, so maybe I just missed something. Can someone explain what this means -- "Though both men could travel the normal distance from their accents to the neutral ear of the educated New Yorker, they were finding the distance between their respective homelands difficult to traverse." I have NO idea what is going on in that paragraph.

But back to the tough cookie -- tough but somehow still soooo refined: a first-generation Brooklyn girl whose father was a Russian immigrant and whose uncle is your typical stevedore. Yet at 26, her eye and ear and whatever else are so very well trained. At a glance, in a moment, she can:

-- recognize Greek Revival
-- talk knowledgeably about "the machine for living"
-- reference the Easter Uprising
-- identify Cezanne as the topic of a fragmentary, overheard conversation
-- compare various characters to Gertrude Stein, to Emma Goldman, to Carry Nation
-- provide expertise on the science of the underside of butterfly wings
-- assess the amateurishness of a natural history collection
-- identify, at a glance, the Endurance in a hallway photograph, AND opine on Shackleton in the same thought
-- meditate on the Greeks and their concept of Nemesis
-- compare a restaurant to a country kitchen in the manner of Chardin
-- recognize a quote from Virgil and comment that it was in perfect meter, iamb for iamb
-- complete a quote from Macbeth started by another character
-- recognize the Chippendale style AND Louis Quatorze AND fine Macassar AND authentic colonial
-- AND reflect on LeCorbusier's musings on New York

There is a mention or two in passing that she has a lot of books, but for a bookworm, she doesn't waste much time reading, not in this book anyway. But I assume the book references were stuck in there to explain how a poorly educated daughter of an immigrant could be so knowledgeable.

Some reviewers have commented on the distracting nature of the dashes used instead of quotation marks. It is. As are the wacky names like Katey Kontent and Carrie Clapboard. Then there are those wierd nouns-as-verbs, like "we would cocktail at an empty bar," and "she would romance her way to the top of the Empire State Building," or "she Irished her cup." Characters come and go with too many coincidences, as New York Reviewer pointed out. In a better text, these might not stick out like such sore thumbs.

"The Great Gatsby" is perfect and unforgettable, and inimitable. This book, not so much.

I honestly think this is really a vanity novel. Good for him -- he is finally published. And got good reviews for a novel that lots of people like. I enjoyed it -- noticing the similes, the moments of expertise on arcane or not-so-arcane subjects. It was like a Weekly Reader story from my childhood, where you circle clues in the text.

Supposed to hear him speak tonight. Probably will give it a pass. It's easy to be a critic and so hard to do the real writing, but 'm tired of the book and glad it's over.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Gatsby lives, August 1, 2011
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F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors, so I was immediately attracted to Amor Towles' "Rules of Civility." And the book did not disappoint. It's a glittering portrayal of a lost time in a magical city (New York) with a woman ... Katey Kontent ... taking the role of Nick Carraway. Towles has the dialog down pat and paints a vivid picture of New York during the pre-WW II years. His characters are flawed and searching, but entirely believable. And the book leaves you with a sense of the despair and the possibilities of the times, including what it was like for young women who were trying to invent careers and lives beyond the traditional bonds of marriage and children ... probably the first generation to do so. This was one ripping good read, one of those books that was difficult to put down and will stick with you for a long time. I might not quote it in the future, like I can do with "Gatsby," but I won't forget it, either.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots of glam but no substance., September 28, 2011
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This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
This book had some really grand moments and good dialogue. But overall was a frustrating read.

The biggest problem is the Konstant Koincidence in the novel. You get to follow Katey Kontent as she literally falls in and out of cabs, Rolls Royces and parties of the rich and famous. Everything is happenstance and luck. Katey claims to be some sort of clever mastermind behind all of this but I never saw any evidence to it.

The story revolves around Katey and Eve- boarding house roomies- who are living on small dollars in a big city in the 30s. (Well, Eve is a rich girl who pretends to be poor by refusing daddy's money- if you don't understand why I'm not impressed with her, listen to that "Common People" song by Pulp.) Anyway. Katey and Eve meet Tinker (a young buck with "star-flushed cheeks") on New Year's Eve and most of the story revolves around the complex relationship between the three of them. There's definitely plenty of suggested romantic and sexual tension that is TOLD to us, but I never really felt it.

As the reader you will follow a couple years of Katey's life, from the perspective of her future self, who, as has already been revealed to you, has since the time of Tinker and Eve moved on and married. So part of the drama of the novel was ruined for me right then and there. Like what did I care what happened to Tinker? What was the point? I already knew the ending. And when you finally get to the ending it's told to you all over again. Yay. I wanted a WEE bit more about the man she did marry.

Overall that's the problem with this novel. There's just really no point. I read it all then realized it's all glitz and glam. The only way to be enchanted by this book is if you're swept away with the twinkling lights, snowy city evenings, ENDLESS DRINKING OF MARTINIS, etc etc. There's tons of atmosphere in this book and admittedly it's GOOD atmosphere. But there's no substance, no moral, nothing to take away when you're done. Shrugs. Not worth the $14 I paid for it. But two stars for amazing ambiance and environmental description.

I imagine it'll make a great movie.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pulls you into its world, July 31, 2011
This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
Katey is a legal secretary living in New York City in 1938. 1930s New York is a giddy world of self re-invention, full of smoky jazz bars, elegant apartments and glamorous Gatsby-esque Long Island parties, a collision of working class immigrants and the moneyed elite. Katey and her best friend Eve share an affinity for gin martinis and partying until late. One New Year's Eve they meet an elegant, moneyed banker named Tinker Grey and he will play a key role in both their lives over the next year.

This is a very enjoyable book. It's receiving raves and while I enjoyed it, I did feel it's a little overhyped. There are idiosyncrasies and occasional inconsistencies in the writing style, which I found annoying, along with some of the characters' silly names (eg Katey Kontent, Carrie Clapboard, Happy Doran). I also felt that the conclusions were a little heavy-handed towards the end.

However, I loved the way the book well and truly pulled me into the glamorous world that was pre-WW2 New York and I really enjoyed Katey - she makes a witty, brave and intelligent heroine, even if she never truly opens up to the reader about her inner most feelings. There are shades of F Scott Fitzgerald but it also reminded me of The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel in the way that it captures different aspects of the city at a specific place in time. A good read, though it falls short (for me) of being a great one.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Passable First Novel, September 12, 2012
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The Rules of Civility has interested me since publication. Everyone from the New York Times to Cosmopolitan magazine has had glowing things to say about it, making me think it was one of those rare modern day novels destined to become literature. The Great Gatsby comparisons in all the reviews finally lured me to purchase it.

The Rules of Civility is a story of a threesome of friends in New York in the 1930s. Katey Kontent is the daughter of Russian immigrants, a working girl with brains and beauty. Eve is a Midwestern beauty with rich parents although she for some unknown reason wants little to do with them or their money. Tinker is the handsome, seemingly well to do stranger they meet on New Year's Eve. They vie for his affections until a big event one night throws their lives into an upheaval which places them on their final paths in life.

The book was not the great read that I thought it would be. I think it was convoluted for what actually happened. It was a perfectly good first novel that in no way drew me in. I put it down for a period of three weeks in the middle of the story and didn't miss it one bit. I have no intention of reading anything else by the author.

He failed to make me care for any of the characters even a little. Even with their unbelievable character outlines (Katey, a daughter of immigrants, very well educated in fine arts, a real career girl; Eve, the poor little rich girl, who must have Tinker and all he stands for although they are the traits she seems to despise in her family), the characters all seemed flat and one dimensional. You spend a lot of time wondering why they like one another and spend so much time together. I spent the entire book with the sensation that Katey was actually a man because Towles does not evoke a believable female voice in the slightest.

What Towles does excel at is romanticizing and glamorizing New York. You feel as though you are walking the streets with Katey and get transported to an era of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. You almost feel the warmth of the city lights as you read the novel. He also writes some unexpectedly beautiful prose in many of his desciptions and has a great gift at penning some very amusing exchanges between the characters.

I wouldn't say this is a negative review, but I fail to understand all the glowing reviews out there. Pick this novel up if you want something light to read or have already read The Great Gatsby and feel curious about all the comparisons out there. Just don't read it under the impression that it is one of those rare, perspective changing tales that will haunt you for years.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, but Lacking Verisimilitude, September 22, 2011
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T-Mac "T-Mac" (Whitehouse, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rules of Civility: A Novel (Hardcover)
The story is explained above, so I won't cover that territory . . .

The biggest issue: I had a hard time believing that the narrator was a young twenty five year old woman in New York. It was also not credible as being told by an older woman in retrospect/ flashback either. Actually, none of the female characters reflected the convincing thoughts, emotions, dialogue and behavior that a woman would have likely felt or displayed- regardless of the era. There was some level of emotional disconnect in the characters as well . . . not sure if the author intended to do that; I would think that because it was first person, you would identify in some way with Katey as the narrator. Alas, I could not "get into her head" because there were so many obstacles to me believing that a woman actually thinks this way, feels this way, behaves this way . . .

The other thing that drove me crazy- the wittiness of the author and repartee of some of the other characters . . . it was overkill and also seemed too slick for something to spontaneously roll right off in the dialogue. I felt like the author saw too many movies from the golden age of hollywood and tried to impart that atmosphere, and it was not successful . . . In fact, it was irritating.
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Rules of Civility: A Novel
Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles (Hardcover - July 26, 2011)
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