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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk: A Novel Hardcover – January 17, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: This is a novel about an 85 year-old woman who wends her way to a party. I may have lost you already, but Kathleen Rooney and her delightful Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will not. Turns out, Ms. Boxfish is a fascinating woman who has led a fascinating life, the details of which she teases out before bidding adieu to the year 1984. One of the most talented and successful ad women for R.H. Macy’s in the 1930s (the character is based on real-life ad woman and author, Margaret Fishback), Ms. Boxfish was once the toast of New York. She reminisces about the time she asked her boss to pay her the same as her less accomplished male counterparts. Seeing as though that’s a battle still being fought today, you can guess how that went, but this incident hints at the kind of woman our feisty flâneuse is. You will learn more about Lillian’s life as a “Mad Woman,” and the one she didn’t anticipate as a wife and mother...Her story takes a dark turn or two as well, and you will root for her as she responds with her signature wit and mettle.
There are beloved works in the canon of great literature featuring famous walkers (James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway immediately come to mind). One of the joys in reading them is the motley cast of characters our heroes and heroines encounter along the way, and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is no exception. Whether it’s a bartender, a bodega employee, or a group of thugs, Lillian confronts them with the same infectious curiosity, compassion, and pluck. It’s a testament to Rooney’s writing chops that you’ll want to walk with Lillian as she ponders, all the while paying homage to New York in its gritty glory. --Erin Kodicek, The Amazon Book Review
A NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER
Powell’s Best Books of 2017
Audible Best Books of 2017
“Irresistible...funny and touching....This witty and heartfelt ode to a city, to its infinite variety, to its melting pot of citizens not only enchants but offers an important lesson: that human connections and work are what give life meaning.”
“Transporting…witty, poignant and sparkling.”
―People (People Picks Book of the Week)
“Prescient and quick....A perfect fusing of subject and writer, idea and ideal.”
“Lillian’s wide-ranging meditations are reason enough to read this charming novel, but it’s also like taking a street-level tour through six decades of New York.”
―New York Times
“I love this book....Just wonderful....A picture of a woman who tried and succeeded in making it in what was a man’s profession." ―Nancy Pearl
“Extraordinary…hilarious…Elegantly written, Rooney creates a glorious paean to a distant literary life and time―and an unabashed celebration of human connections that bridge past and future.
―Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)
"Rooney's delectably theatrical fictionalization is laced with strands of tart poetry and emulates the dark sparkle of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Truman Capote. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney’s nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor."
―Booklist (starred review)
“Effervescent…steeped in humanity and wit.”
―The Christian Science Monitor (10 Best Books of January)
“Needle-sharp....A delightful stroll with a colorful character.”
―Library Journal (starred review)
“Enchanting….[Rooney] is clearly in her element here….Pre-Mad Men, [Lillian] combines the smarts of Peggy Olson, the sex appeal of Joan Holloway, and a hefty dose of independence that’s all her own.”
“Illuminating….singular…wonderful.”―The Philippine Star
"Past and present intermingle in Rooney’s novel, distinguished by a careful shift from past to present tense but always unified by Lillian’s unfailingly witty, reflective voice."
“Well written, funny, and wise, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk is one of those novels that once again remind us of the power and value of fiction.” ―Smoky Mountain News
“Easily the best gadding-around-town novel since Dawn Powell and Dorothy Parker.”
―Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up and We Are Pirates
"There is a little of Lillian Boxfish in all of us. And if there isn’t, there ought to be.”
―Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank With Me
"A lively, fictionalized version of Fishback's story...[with] plenty of charm."
“If you are not charmed by Lillian Boxfish, then there may be no hope for you.”
―Bookpage (Book of the Day)
“This walk will sweep listeners off their feet…seemingly effortless yet so compelling.”
―AudioFile Magazine (Earphones Award winner)
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Lillian, adorable at first, .becomes more and more self-righteous, self-important, pedantic and egotist as the book progresses. (The tiny sentence where Lilian says she was relieved when her parents died was a big put off). This type of character (feminist, self-sufficient, ambitious career woman, estranged from family, not fond of kids, etc) has been overdone and has become an American clichee.
To be a great writer you ought to go beyond this. I wished Ms. Rooney marbled her character with more vulnerability and humanity (like she did in the great scene with her divorced husband at DelMonico, and the fact that she never stopped loving him). Lilian is friendly but mainly because she loves to hold court and be the wittiest woman in the room. It gets tiring.
Every person has a secret struggle that gnaws at him or her, however successful or apparently perfect they are. I wish the author explained more compellingly why Lilian became severely depressed and a drinker, from the tough cookie who had it all (a husband she loved, a kid, a great apt in the city, and enough money to live well even after the stopped working full time and started freelancing). Here, the author lost her delightful light touch from the beginning and became heavy, but not particularly enlightening or touching. From here on, I struggled to keep reading.
Then there's the present day 86 y,o. Lilian who strolls in NY. Ever so often, Lilian's voice slips, betraying the young person impersonating the old. There's a paragraph where Lilian says that old people don't know how to walk and lectures them on correct walking. I would like to tell the young author that old people have difficulties walking not because they don't know how to walk correctly, but because they have back problems, sciatica, and pain shooting through their legs from hip to foot when they walk. At 86, I'd say 95% of old people have leg, back and hip issues.
Overall, it's a remarkable book for whoever knows and loves New York. It revives the old lost values of civility and elegance that are missing in today's casual society. I'd say give it a try and read it for as long as it keeps you interested. The great parts of this novel are worth discovering.
A three and a half stars....
Along the way to Wendy’s home, Lillian recalls the story of her life, from the time she moved to New York, to her job at Macy’s, marrying her husband, and his divorcing her; and of her love for walking and writing. Hers is a story of life and how to grasp it, and how to regain it when it slips away from you. It is a moving account of a feisty old lady who tells us how feisty she was when young; that even America in the 1930s could not bump a woman of drive and ability off the road.
This passage illustrates the wit and charm of Rooney’s book: ‘“Love, Olive, is not what I scoff at,” I said. “What I scoff at is rank sentimentalism: the silly idea of love that advertisers – including us – use to sell everything from soup to soap to subjugation. As for the city, Olive, I live here because I like it.”
“You like it because it’s fashionable.”
“No, Olive,” I said. “I like it for the same reason that it’s fashionable. Namely, that it is pretty swell.”’
I do not know if this book has won any prizes, but it clearly deserves one.
This is a happy burden, since it’s such a delicious read and succeeds on every level. It’s the story of a woman taking a ten-mile New Year’s Eve walk through 1980’s New York, and bumping into her 1930’s past along the way. It’s a love story that turns tragic. It’s a story that frames the tension between work and parenting. It’s a portrait of a lovely friendship between two ‘career’ women when they were the exception, not the rule. Women who would complete the truism: LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND, with this witticism—or truerism: THEN IT MAKES THE WORLD GO FLAT. Women I’d like to know, and felt I did, reading Rooney’s book.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Lillian Boxfish was inspired by a genuine figure, the highest paid advertising woman of her time, Margaret Fishback. Who, however highly paid, still got lower wages than lesser men. As it is, as it always has been. Perhaps, as it won’t always be, with such eloquent champions as Rooney.
But Lillian Boxfish is much more than an “inspired-by” tale spoon-feeding us social history. Because Rooney is such a talented writer, it doesn’t matter if Lillian grew out of history or the author’s fertile imagination. She’s a full and ferocious heroine who will make you laugh out loud, will make you cringe when she’s hurt and will make you cheer when she lands a literary punch. Read it.