Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility: A Novel

“Old times,” as my father used to say, ”if you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.”

Debut novelist Amor Towles has captured a moment in the life of a woman when she was up for grabs—emotionally, spiritually, physically.

1938. New York. Two twenty-something women from very different backgrounds meet in Mrs. Martingale’s boarding house located on the lower East Side of Manhattan. They party by their wits and their beauty for they have no money. Together on New Year’s Eve 1938, they run into Tinker Grey, a wealthy enigma who becomes part of their lives.

Lush, literate language channels the period: jazz saxophonists have a “semblance of rhythm and surfeit of sincerity;” Midwestern beauties are “starlight with limbs”; Indiana-born Eve Ross could be a “corn-fed fortune hunter or a millionairess on a tear.” Towles seems to really enjoy choosing words that express locales, movement, inflection. The language glitters, though the larger job—meaning—seemed to lack depth.

Spring turns to summer and when autumn comes, our narrator Kate has compressed the usual time it takes to develop a grown-up sensibility, and has evolved into someone cautious, calculating, focussed. There were moments in this novel when I discovered I didn’t admire nor even like these people very much. I had a sense of distance from events, and meeting our narrator years later didn't reassure me that she'd developed whatever character or grace her younger self had lacked.

This Books on Tape audiobook was performed by Rebecca Lowman with considerable skill. She may have made our narrator slightly colder than strictly necessary, but it was ably done.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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