Conjugating Hope: Relationships and the Rules of Civility
"Doesn't New York just turn you inside out?" This is the question posed at the opening and considered at the closing of Amor Towles' earnest novel, Rules of Civility. The novel, a first for Towles, is an aching but cheeky romp into the social scene of New York City circa 1938, a city on the cusp of recovery, war and a redefinition of societal worth. Twenty-something Katey Kontent acts as protagonist and is very much the woman that should embody the quintessential femme fatale: attractive, self-assured, bold, brave and unabashed, yet undeniably self-conscious and real -- you just know she'll take you where the story needs to go with no detail left behind.
This particular story revolves around the happenstance meeting of three young New Yorkers on New Year's Eve 1937 and the repercussions that shape not only their year, but their entire lives. Character faults are rampant, but so are friendships, and the consequences of both make for an intoxicating read.
Towles comes off as well read and foists this characteristic onto Miss Katherine-Kate-Katey-Katya or “Sis” Kontent. Books are ever-present characters in Towles' novel: Woolf, Dickens, Hemingway, Thoreau and even Christie are frequently on deck. Unfortunately, not unlike Thoreau, Towles tends to gets lost, perhaps bogged down at times, in the wherefore and minutia of the everyday and lose the impetus of plot: the lusted after action. Salads, horses, guns and paper airplanes are amazing, but sometimes, in a love story, we really want, nay! NEED to read the details of that kiss.
On the whole, this novel is absolutely captivating and all ends are bound in a very satisfying, if not deliciously frustrating, knot. That you know the outcome from the outset does not detract from the butterflies, the essence of hope, that the two that should be together should be together. Towles captures the cadence and content of a volatile generation in a manner that suggests he was there. And a woman! But he wasn't! And he's a man! Rules of Civilty is a novel of figure eights designed for readers who love to read. So, I say read it and let love and logic and the stuff that gets in between turn you inside out.