Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility was on the top of the stack of galleys in my office when I was about to leave on vacation. I saw the cover, read through the preface and though, OK, this book might have a shot.

It had more than a shot. It's a stunning novel, and one that I read in just over a day.

Rules of Civility is about Katey Kontent, a 25-year-old secretary who, with roommate Eve, meets a Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937. Katey is a legal typist. Grey comes draped in a fine cashmere coat and orders the girls champagne just as they ran out of nickels for martinis. Yes, he is Gatsby-like, but without the overlapping obsession about one woman. And since the book starts in the 1960s with Katey looking at an art exhibit featuring Tinker as a poor penniless man, you know that this wealth will not last long.

The trio hit it off, and eventually make dates together. Tinker seems to be leaning toward Katey, which doesn't rest too well with Eve. Right when Eve seems to shake it off, though, well, I won't say too much more or I'll ruin the book for you.

I wouldn't say this is light vacation fluff. There's too much depth and texture. Even though the book revolves around the trio, the character of Katey, who was orphaned at 19, is almost like its own story. It made me wonder how Amor Towles, a 46 year old man from the suburbs of Boston, could capture the limbo that is being in your mid-20s.

The setting of late 1930s New York City, too, is well done. This book makes me want a historical novel and gives me a headache at the prospect at the same time.

I regret to say that you can't buy it until July, though. But mark it down. Make sure you grab it when it's out. Yes, I think it's that good.

P.S. I just read through the Q&A that came with the book. Towles allowed himself one year to write the book. He wrote, revised and, as he said, "banked" one chapter a week. What a marvelous idea. I think I might try that since I'm struggling with my fiction (though he did add that the entire process took about three years, which included revisions of the entire thing).

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