Editor's Note: Amor Towles debut novel, The Rules of Civility, hit the New York Times bestseller list at No. 16. Want to know when his latest book, A Gentleman in Moscow, will be available through the library? Sign up for the Wowbrary newsletter to find out when this title, along with all the other newest books and movies the library has on order, is available to place on hold.
Before beginning Rules of Civility, you may want to pour yourself a dry martini heaped with olives, put Cole Porter on the gramophone, slip into something filmy and settle down on your chaise for a nostalgic romp through New York City in the late 1930s.
Katey Kontent is a girl on a mission. Katey is the daughter of Russian immigrants, now alone in the world. She begins her story as part of a secretarial pool at Quiggin & Hale, under the watchful eye of Miss Markham. But nighttime is a different story for Katey and her adventurous roommate, Eve, (a girl from one of the I states who was “bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance…looking like starlight with limbs”). The two of them set out on New Year’s Eve with three dollars in their pockets to take them through drinks and a 15-cent bacon and eggs breakfast at 3 a.m.. They end up meeting Tinker – a wealthy socialite – who promptly changes the trajectory of their modest lives. In the weeks to follow, the trio cavorts through the city, until a traffic accident halts their antics and Eve is left injured, scarred, but not chastened, leaving Katey and Tinker pick up the pieces of their lives.
As Katey threads her way through relationships, jobs and eventual marriage, the novel caroms from shopping trips to Bendel’s, to parties in luxurious mansions on Oyster Bay, to the French Rivera, to Adirondack camps, to dives in back alleys, to the Marx brother movies, to the glitter of Conde Nast – always sipping the rarefied champagne air of rich pre-war society. With shades of Gatsby and Holly Golighty, the landscape is peopled with characters like Anne the mysterious “godmother” of Tinker who appears at the edges of every activity directing it all with a steel-magnolia essence; Tinker who is always striving; Wallace, a wealthy socialite who stutters, possesses a magnificent gun collection and a listening heart; good-hearted Dickey, the ultimate playboy; Eve, lately of Hollywood who prefers life on the “other side of the windshield” and, of course, Katey, the moral center around whom these lives swirl. Chance encounters and surprises pop up around many a boulevard and “that’s how quickly New York City comes about – like a weather vane – or the head of a cobra. Time tells which.”
The novel dances with rapier dialogue, humor, intelligence and charm. It is a love song, a melting ice cream cone as well as an electric bolt of wisdom. And over it all reigns George Washington’s Rules of Civility a slim volume of 110 directives, aspiring the wandering Tinker as he tracks down life.
And it is a treat for us all who with Mr. George Washington’s Rule #110 - “Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”
-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library