Rules of Civility is a Modern American Classic
I’m not old enough to have read The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye when they were first printed. They were old classics, well deconstructed and mythologized long before I was even born. But reading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, I felt like this must be what it was like to read The Great Gatsby on it’s first printing. Like you are in the presence of something significant, right before the world notices. Right before everyone wants to devour and dismantle and explain and use this book as a way to reflect on their own lives, or the time period. This book will be the kind of novel that dissertations are written on and tenured professors build their careers around. And with good reason.
Sometimes books that are full of perfectly quotable moments are just that, a collection of quotes with no tangible plot or magnetic characters, just built on beautiful words and nothing else. Sometimes the quotes are greater than the sum of all those parts of the book. But Rules of Civility lives up to, and as a whole, exceeds each fabulous quote that might stand on its own.
This book was populated with characters and a story that lived up to the actual beauty of the writing.
The main characters of Kate, Eve and Tinker, and especially Kate are the reason this book works so well. Kate is your guide. She knocks on the hidden door into the back of a glamorous speakeasy. She grabs your hand and leads you down a dark alleyway, knocking on the nondescript door, in past the doorman, and you slide into a spacious leather booth at the back of a secret New York night club, gin in hand and ready for all of the surprises and missteps and dramas of this night that await her, and you. Her tenacity, her confidence and her bold self awareness make her one of my new favorite heroines. This novel is cinematic and I cannot wait to see Kate fully alive on the big screen. Sipping martinis, editing manuscripts and interviewing doormen, wearing bias cut silk dresses and running with a fancier crowd than she ever intended, all while holding firm control over her own destination.
I felt like I was learning a lesson with every page, without even knowing it: how to find pleasure in the little things, the danger of self delusion, the honor and suffocation of duty, the power of female friendship and the inevitable collapse of all love triangles. The Rules of Civility that Tinker formulated his life around were his downfall. But the lessons and rules of this book helped Kate find an amazing career, a satisfying marriage and the ability to see through other’s facades and into their true natures. She broke those rules and made up her own along the way, and that for me makes Kate and this book both modern American classics. (And can I say, I hope Cate Blanchett plays Anne Grandin, wouldn’t those big emerald earrings look perfect on her icy beauty?)
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