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Rules of Civility: A Novel Audible – Unabridged

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Editorial Reviews

A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.

Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising 25-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.

©2011 Amor Towles (P)2011 Penguin

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

437 of 465 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2011
Format: 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 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.
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200 of 221 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 26, 2011
Format: 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.
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336 of 401 people found the following review helpful By New York reviewer on September 5, 2011
Format: 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.Read more ›
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