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Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (5/5)

31 Oct

This was another book club gem that I knew nothing about when I picked it up and by the time I was done, I never wanted to put it down. The story and writing were amazing and I’m so glad to have read it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Summary from Goodreads:

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

It’s been a while since I let the writing of a book woo me and let me forget about the plot. Towles has a way with words I haven’t experienced for a few months and I loved it. I also loved Katey which made falling in love with this book easy. She was brave and forward while still being likable. It was only her time with Dicky I didn’t like. I thought the book was a great depiction of life in New York City during the period as well. I really appreciated the historical detail and the descriptions of ethnic subcultures that the characters ran into. It felt so real as if this novel was written in the 30s instead of set there.

The characters jumped off the page. I think we’ve all known a Katey and an Ann and a Tinker and a Wallace and an Eve. None of them felt like a stereotype and each of them felt like someone I went to high school with. I really enjoyed a male author’s ability to write a strong and believable woman. I know that can be hard and I think Katey was spot on.

I adored Wallace. I wanted him to last longer in Katey’s story. I thought he was sweet and shy when he first showed up. His stutter was so endearing and I enjoyed his forwardness despite the handicap. The friendship he and Katey formed was wonderful and was my favorite part of the plot. He was really good to Katey, too, and I appreciated someone who wanted to give her something rather than take something from her.

Katey wanted to move up in the world and had things dashed around her several times to get there. The accident, Tinker’s truth, and her fall-out with Dicky kept knocking her down, but she kept getting up. That’s someone who’s easy to cheer for. We all feel knocked down in life and it’s easy to stay down, but Katey gets back up; why shouldn’t I?

Amor Towles
Image via Goodreads

Katey’s rise in her own career won me over. There were much more limited career options for women in the 1930s than there are today and Katey, though she started on a traditional path, moved into a company where she took risks and where she was rewarded for those. She became influential and a pioneer in her field and I kept rooting for her.

I felt Katey treated Dicky poorly and it was my least favorite part of the book. He was a sweet kid and it was so obvious she was using and manipulating him that it hurt to read. I was glad she finally told him the truth but I was also sad it took her so long to get it out. I didn’t want to see him hurt but you knew it had to come.

Katey was passive at the beginning of the book but she came into her own when she realized she missed out on Tinker because she was too quiet. She decided to start going after things then and really take an initiative in her own future. I liked how Katey grew in the book and how her aggressive pursuit of and investment in her future paid off in the long run. I thought it was a great message.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s no one thing I can say about why this book was such a joy to read. There were descriptions that made me sigh with pleasure and the way the characters were brought to life was incredible. I’d have to study Towles writing more to put my finger on what was so special about it and I’d be glad to do it! This book was a joy to read.

A great book which makes it clear why this author is so celebrated. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles | Only Good Books