Civility Reigns

Amor Towles makes quite a splash with his debut novel The Rules of Civility. It’s the story of one year in the life of Katey Kontent, an up-and-coming Manhattanite who is trying to rise out of the secretarial pool with nerve, brains, and the kind of attractiveness that comes from youth, verve, and wit instead of connections or money.

Perhaps Towles’ greatest success is his ability to capture the spirit of the late 30s in New York City: the painful echoes of the depression, the threat of wars in Europe, but most importantly, the optimism of a generation  quivering with the energy of jazz music, new art styles, and an increasing degree of hope.

The story opens almost thirty years after the mail plot line with the older Katey finding two pictures of a young man while walking through a Walker Evans retrospective in 1966, photographs that send her mind spiralling back to New Years’ Day, 1938. That was the day that Katey and her roommate Eve (who is, if possible, even more driven than Katey) stumbled happily into the orbit of Tinker Grey, a handsome young banker. So began a year of love triangles, people found and people lost, social climbing, and the costs associated with that quietly brutal ascent.

The title “rules” are those created by the ambitious young George Washington, which Tinker uses as his guide to charming and conquering the social strata of the New York upper crust. The central question of the book is what kinds of behavior are acceptable when making the climb. Those questions and the proud, complicated characters that Towles draws in elegant detail make this prime book group territory, a lovely small continent waiting for your explorations.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Civility Reigns"

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  1. misha says:

    I just finished this myself and loved it! Great post, Neil!

  2. shavers@crc.losrios.edu' Shelley says:

    The thirties are the setting of my writing too, yet I hadn’t heard about this book. Thanks!

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