Rules of Civility: A Swanky, Enthralling Read

BlogHer Review

“If we only fell in love with the people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place,” stated Tinker Grey, the charming, handsome man who seemed to have it all in Amor Towles Rules of Civility. As we get older, we find that love has eluded us, confused us, brought out the best in us, and develops into a vital part of what our lives become.  The sound of an old song, or the smell of a familiar fragrance or even a photograph of an old friend or flame can bring back an entire memory and moment in life. Katey Kontent, of Amor Towles Rules of Civility has a striking flash back of love, life and the rollercoaster of experiences she felt during 1938 when she surprisingly sees a photograph of Tinker Grey, a man who played a major role in her early twenties life, at an art gallery, some thirty years later.

What woman doesn’t have a few places in her past that are as vivid as the sunshine on a July day? Perhaps it was a past love, or a vacation to an enthralling destination, or an event that forever changed her life. 1938 was a year etched in Katey Kontent’s memory that entailed love, friendship and the careless days of being a young woman in New York during the late 1930s. Katey and her side kick Eve were the sharp opposites of oppression and limitations that are often associated with the early 1900 years in America. They bounced from social hot spot to hot spot, sipping cocktails, soaking in the iconic jazz and swing music of the era and participating in all the social events privy to their circle of friends.

Katy Kontent is a hard-working young woman of the 1930s, who instead of getting a Mrs. Degree is working to keep a hard-earned spot with one of the largest publishers in New York. Not a common feat for women associated with the era. One aspect that isn’t clearly elaborated on is the matters of how she felt deeply about the events she faced. At first it seemed that Towles completely missed the mark, using a woman narrator, but perhaps he wanted to leave it to the reader to imagine what she felt, what she thought and how it was to be in her position when she faced the roller coaster changes and sharp thrusts of the plot. Or perhaps, her absence of being overly-emotional was strength of character, unlike most women, she didn’t dwell on the emotions of loving a man, or the pain of rejection or the frustration of relationship disconnects.

Towles provides an ever changing plot that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps your attention from chapter to chapter. Most novels have a plot that is predictable and easy, in contrast, Rules of Civility leaves the reader aghast and surprised at every turn. The characters are so intertwined that when everything falls apart, or comes together, it is completely unexpected. It’s almost as if as the reader, you get so carried away with the detailed allusions to the decade and time with woozy song lyrics, cocktails that tempt your taste buds and references to literary greats such as Hemingway and Thoreau, that when the characters true intentions and personalities are revealed, you fall off of your fantasy stool into the bleak reality of their lives.

Overall, I had a great adventure reading the book, and at times wished I could be transported back in time to be able to experience a jazz band in a swanky bar in 1938. I could almost hear the bands, smell the cigarettes and taste the cocktails. Rules for Civility was absolutely, a great summer read, with flowing text that was entertaining, insightful and left me wanting more.


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