Rules of Civility is Rich in Detail and Character [Slight SPOILERS]
If books allow you to be a fly on the wall during the telling of the story, then the new novel Rules of Civility by Amor Towles allowed me to be taken back in time to 1930's New York to experience life from the viewpoint of single women living in that time.
The story is told in the first person by Katey, a young second generation Russia immigrate woman who loses her father at age 19 and ends up living in a women's boarding house in New York City while working as a very dutiful secretary in a law office. Katey is a very intelligent woman who is quick witted and loves reading classic books. Katey's roommate is Eve, a young beauty from Indiana who is very into her appearance, but seems to be fighting for her own independence since she wants nothing to do with her hometown or her upper middle class family.
On New Year's Eve of 1937, Katey and Eve are out on the town trying to live it up on their meager wages and have a chance meeting with a man named Tinker Gray. Tinker is the embodiment of everything that a single woman of that time would be looking for a man: good looking, nice, mannerable, well educated and very rich. But Tinker seems almost embarrassed and tries to downplay his wealth and education when he is around the girls.
The three became fast friends, but we all know that three is crowd as both Katey and Eve seem interested in having a relationship with Tinker. Eve tries every feminine charm in the book on Tinker, but he seems more naturally comfortable with the witty and smart Katey. Then one night, a car accident changes the course of all three lives in the way that none of them initially planned.
Rules of Civility is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but mostly sobering in the telling of Katey's story of one strange and life turning year. The book chronicles all the important events in Katey's life in 1938 with each chapter in the book usually spanning one month.
The book lets the reader into the lives of the newly independent women of the 1930s who can now live alone and hold a job outside of the home. The description of Katey's job at the law office is comical with tales of how all the women are taught to sit straight and act mildly and how each is identified not by their name, but by using one letter of the alphabet. Also the character of Eve is interesting in that she at first seems to love her independence, but events show that she is really very manipulative and needy. Tinker's godmother Anne has a line in the story that sums up the times for woman where she says that instead of a woman trying to be a rich man's wife, she ought to be figuring out how the man got rich.
Amor Towles' Rules of Civility also shows the lives of the upper class in 1930's New York City. Like in the TV show Sex in the City, New York City in this book is like the fourth starring character and the reader clearly sees people shopping at Berdolf's, Bendels and Saks and dining at Rockefeller Center, The Explorers Club and Club 21.
If you like a story that is rich in details and mixed with complex characters under a 1930s New York sky, then Rules of Civility is for you.
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