Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles
Borrowed from: Ann Arbor District Library
Bought from: The Cottage Book Shop
Rules of Civility is one of those books that is not about what it seems but about so much more. Although the book jacket describes the book as following the life of someone as she rises in New York society, I found the book is not about that all. Although both our heroine Katey Kontent (emphasis Kontent) and her friend Eve do rise into the socialite scene in the late 1930’s Manhattan the ascent has as much to do with a New Years Eve resolution as it does with their personal goals of wealth.
The book starts in the late 1966’s at a viewing of photographs taken of people riding the Subway in the late 1930’s. Katey, visiting the viewing with her husband, recognizes the face of a friend and thus starts our flashback to 1938. Although other reviews seem to say this is method writing and always happens in books, I appreciated knowing that Katey does fine in life. There is a reminiscing quality to her story. I love to reminisce. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. For me, this is not method writing, but a wonderful way to tell a story.
The three souls of Katey, Eve and Tinker meeting and the events that prod their interactions are wonderful. In any threesome there is bound to be someone who feels like the third wheel. I trepidatiously waited as these three continued to grow in friendship until an accident that ultimately forced a decision on a twosome + the third wheel person. We soon leave our couple on the edges of the pages always there in the background but percolating through decisions made as our third wheel person becomes one in her own. Through more chance encounters and deeper friendships, she rises in her own right.
She can’t seem to get away from Tinker though and as many of us who have dealt with unrequited love at one time or another, is unable to move past these feelings until there is nothing left to do but face them. Ultimately, we know that many of the characters made choices that helped them become who they would be for their adult lives. I felt that all the characters stayed true to themselves and their endings, or new beginnings as the case may be, were right.
There a few things that stood out to me as I was reading:
- I really wanted to know which character we meet in 1938 would turn out to be her husband. Every time a new male character was introduced, I would think “is this him?” and ultimately dismiss the character as not matching with the feel of the husband character at the beginning of the novel. After finding out who actually is her husband, I was surprised, not to have missed the connection in the book, but surprised that we didn’t have more about their courtship and life. Obviously this means the events that led to their marriage happened outside of 1938 but oh how I wish I could hear more of Katey’s voice in remembering their courtship!
- I believe that ultimately each character stayed true to their New Year’s Resolution they made to get out of their ruts. They gave themselves a year and by 1939, everything had changed and so had they. Many other reviews of this book say something like “when else does this happen except when you are in your 20’s” but I think this is more true to any time in our lives than we think. If you really think back over a year, you can see how much things have changed, even if you are doing the same job or living in the same house. I love this about life and I kind of loved their resolution as well.
- Can we talk about Wallace for a minute? I loved him so much! Although I do not think he and Katey should have tried for a romantic relationship (anyone remember their attempt to kiss?) I do think that they had a beautiful friendship. The kind of friendship that would have lasted through boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives/moves etc. It’s always bittersweet when those things end prematurely.
- The writing was absolutely beautiful. With very few books do I care what other people have to say about it. Rules of Civility is different. Not only did I buy myself a copy but I also scoured the Internet to find book discussions so I could read what others were saying. The 3 best discussion sites I found were: GoodReads (I found some of the comments on reviews offer better discussion than the actual discussion section), Pancakes and French Fries and Real Simple No Obligation Book Club. My only regret is reading this book in August 2012 and completely missing the ability to join in on those discussions.
Whew. Long-winded but I could talk about this book forever. I already am anticipating the next time I read it again. I’m going to give it some time but this is one book that will forever be on my shelves, just waiting to carry me back to these beautiful characters.
PS: The author has a wonderful website full of other writings and discussion group questions. Although I hope he writes another book, these are helping tide me over.