Friday, March 1, 2013

The Rules of Civility

Yes, I know, I'm very late to the party. This novel by Amor Towles was all the talk of the town last year and book groups all over my area were embracing it with abandon. And who, you might ask, is Amor Towles anyway? The voice of the novel suggested to me that Amor was a man, yet part of me thought, "what a lovely name for a woman!" Read more about this wondrous writer here.

I have been listening to The Rules of Civility on my ipod and I do admittedly get distracted while I'm walking or gardening. Though the reading by Rebecca Lowman is perfectly fine, I suspect that this is a book to be held, read and savoured, one that requires the reader to return to certain sections just to marvel at the literary technique, the amazingly apt metaphors, the beauty of the prose.

Towles takes us back to the 1930's, when young women from the mid-west flocked to New York City to make it big (or not) in the Big Apple. Eve is one of those gals. She becomes fast friends with Katey Kontent, a witty, intelligent young woman, mature beyond her years, whom she meets at the boarding house where they chafe under the watchful eye of their landlady.

Pooling their meagre salaries, Katey and Evie make the rounds of speakeasies and jazz clubs from Greenwich Village to Harlem where, one evening, they catch the eye of a man who looks terribly out of place with his creme silk scarf and gold engraved lighter.

Tinker Gray, drawn to their enthusiasm and gaiety, becomes their partner in crime as they swill unlimited martinis and sip flutes of champagne while tripping the light fantastic. It doesn't hurt that Tinker appears to have an endless amount of cash and a gorgeous place on the upper east side. Towles' descriptions of New York circa 1938 are so enticing I wanted to jump right on a Jet Blue flight for the north!

But of course, nothing this much fun can last forever. Where, after all, would the dramatic tension come from? A freak accident has devastating consequences on the dynamic among the three friends, altering the way we see each of them. Themes of loyalty and trust are examined as each character is put under the microscope. And there are so many fabulous secondary characters for us to scrutinize as well!

The nature of class structure, money and how it's acquired, education, opportunity and fate with a capital F are all subjects ripe for thoughtful discussion. Readers who may think of those times as more carefree and innocent will be quickly disabused. In fact, that's the nature of Towles' talent, that he so deftly digs beneath the bright, shiny surface to the darker truths in the shadows. I can't wait to see what else this young man will do.


TooManyBooks said...

I loved the book!

Sallyb said...

Wasn't it beautiful? Glad to hear you enjoyed it too.