Rules of Civility: A Snapshot of a Glittery City

BlogHer Review

Rules of Civility is a quaint little novel; not tremendously long at about 350 pages, but it packs in a whole lot of plot. Set in the late 1930s in New York City, it follows the ups and downs of Katey Kontent as she navigates Manhattan society. 1938 is a pivotal year for Katey as she and a friend, Eve, have a chance encounter on New Year's Eve that changes both of their lives forever.

The novel follows Katey for the next two years as she changes her career, romantic pursuits and mends and breaks some hearts. The plot dips and swerves and takes some surprisings turns as Katey thrives through tumult. The lush descriptions of Depression-era New York invite the reader in to what feels like a closed world: society parties and late night jazz clubs. At times, the detailed settings overpower the story, but also the city exists, in a way, as a secondary main character.

Amor Towles handled the novel's strong female characters with a deft hand, Katey is clever and focused and determined to make her way up from a law office secretarial pool. Katey's working class background acts at a bridge between the upper classes and those that work to support them. This serves her well when given the opportunity of a lifetime to advance her career.

Rules of Civility reads almost like it was written in the 30s, similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald or Upton Sinclair. The word choices are particular and I didn't notice any more modern vernacular slipping in. At times, this might make it a more difficult read, but I am a huge fan of that era in American literature and found it a delight to read. I tore through this novel in two days and could not wait to see how it ended. It did not disappoint. Amor Towles's Rules of Civility is an excellent debut novel and I can't wait to see what he writes next.

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