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Rules of Civility: A Novel Paperback – June 26, 2012
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“An irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working class-women and world-weary WASPs in 1930s New York…in the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave – and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This very good first novel about striving and surviving in Depression-era Manhattan deserves attention…The great strength of Rules of Civility is in the sharp, sure-handed evocation of Manhattan in the late ‘30s.” —Wall Street Journal
“Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent…[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.” —People
“[A] wonderful debut novel…Towles [plays] with some of the great themes of love and class, luck and fated encounters that animated Wharton’s novels.” —The Chicago Tribune
“Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.” —NPR.org
“Glamorous Gotham in one to relish…a book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
About the Author
Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was named as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages. Having worked as an investment professional for over twenty years, Mr. Towles now devotes himself full time to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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The story itself takes place mostly in Manhattan, in the late 1930s, with Katey as the narrator. She rooms with her friend, Evelyn, while both try their hand at scratching out a living. After an auto accident leaves Evelyn scarred, they take up with a rich young banker nicknamed Tinker and proceed to have various kinds of work-love-musical-artistic adventures in and around The Big Apple.
Near the middle of the book, Katey gets a ride home from a party, courtesy of a young man named Valentine. Yes, it’s that Val. But that’s the last of we hear of him until the Epilogue. We do learn briefly about Germany’s anschluss of Austria in early 1938 and how Charlie Chaplin’s mustache reminded Americans of Adolph Hitler. Katey has a good friend named Wallace who leaves New York for Spain to fight in the war, presumably alongside Ernest Hemingway. That’s about all you’ll read of events occurring outside of New York during this historical period.
The dialogue is entertaining and seems authentic for the period but it was hard to fully appreciate any of the characters. Katey has several romantic relationships but we never get any insight into how and why she wound up with her husband. I was disappointed in not learning how this happened.
Last month I read Amor Towles' second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, and enjoyed it very much, prompting me to buy this book. If I’d read this book first, I would not have bothered with his second one.