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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recommended Reading: "The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles.

When The Rules of Civility was published last year it received a lot of good reviews.  Nonetheless, I put off reading it.  The plot summary didn't sound appealing.  Perhaps the black-and-white photo on the book jacket of a well-dressed young couple drinking cocktails in a garden contributed to this in some way.  I haven't been in the mood to read about the problems of posh, upper-class white people.  This past week, however, I finally broke down and read it.  And loved it.  My preconceptions about the story were completely wrong and I found The Rules of Civility an engaging and absorbing read.

Author Amor Towles takes a concept that sounds a bit like a routine romance novel and turns it into a sophisticated story about choice and chance.  Set in New York City in 1938, the protagonist is 25-year old Kate Kontent.  Kate grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of a Russian immigrant.  She lives in a boarding house and supports herself by working in the typing pool of a law firm.  Kate is smart, well read, attractive, and hard working.  While out with her friend Eve Ross on New Year's Eve, the women meet the handsome Tinker Grey, a man who looks decidedly upper class.  "You could just picture his forebear at the helm of the Mayflower" according to Kate.  Eve calls "dibs" on Tinker.  However, which of the two women he prefers remains to be seen as the book unfolds and more unanticipated events shape all three lives.

Sure, the plot sounds like a vehicle for a weepy movie featuring Betty Davis, but trust me:  in the hands of Amor Towles this is an absorbing, contemporary story.  And appropriately enough for a novel concerning wealth and society, everything about the quality of writing in The Rules of Civility is first class.  Tracking both Kate's social life and career ambitions, the story moves along with the speed and ease of a powerful luxury passenger train, with witty dialogue and sharp observations.  A very good book.  I am so glad I finally read The Rules of Civility.   

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Viking Press


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