Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I snapped this book up after reading Carolann's review of it on her blog, Wonderpug Graphics & Co. You can read her thoughts on it here, and I really suggest doing so. I can't recall the last time I purchased a book after reading one review of it, but Carolann's enthusiasm and the way she captured the essence of the book while leaving a bit of mystery to the plot hit all the right notes.
Rules of Civility is the story of Katey Kontent, a spirited young woman endeavoring to live a full life in Manhattan during the fizzy Jazz Age. Through the pages of the book Katey takes us on an honest, somewhat deadpan tour of the whirlwind year that was 1938: from New Year's to New Year's and with little time for rest in between, we see her glide from a boarding house to the upper reaches of Manhattan's high society, with all of the loves and losses along the way. The city comes alive through the bold protagonist and the other characters illustrated, particularly her roommate and best friend, audacious Eve Ross, and the man who changes both of their lives, the enigmatic Tinker Grey. The connection between Katey and Tinker is instantaneous, but their story is as cryptic as real life.
The allure of Rules of Civility for me was the combination of the author's engaging prose – at once frank and poetically elusive – along with his way of applying it into the narrative of his Katey, who felt like a spitfire brought from the screen of Hollywood's Golden Age; Jean Harlow in an undiscovered pre-code film. Katey is at times abruptly direct, waltzing occasionally into crude territory and without a hint of apology, but her brass makes her all the more enchanting. Mr. Towles didn't overdo it on the task of refining her, making her feel very accurate to her situation, and yet she exuded her own brand of class. That aptly describes her life between the pages of the novel, as well, I think.
While this was the debut novel from Mr. Towles, I certainly hope the literary world will be seeing more of his unique touch. Rules of Civility has been compared to The Great Gatsby – can you imagine: likened to Fitzgerald on your debut! – and I certainly feel the resemblance. With the weight of his prose and the way he passes over chances to explain his story without, it would seem, a second thought, he calls to mind Fitzgerald in a very significant way, while creating characters that are all his own. It's no doubt the story will stay with me long after I've placed the book back on my shelves. I think I learned a lot from Mr. Towles, from brazen Eve, from blue-eyed Tinker and especially from brash, Jean Harlow-esque Katey Kontent.