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More Than a Matter of Manners   Leave a comment

Rules

Rules of Civility might sound like an oxymoron today, but author Amor Towles has crafted an engaging novel set in 1938 about social mores that provides plenty to contemplate now.

Katey Kontent (as in the adjective, not the noun) is the narrator whose memory is jarred at an art exhibit in 1966 which takes her back to that one eventful year and the cast of characters who filled it. Katey is a lively, intelligent 25-year-old trying to survive in New York City. A chance encounter on New Year’s Eve 1937 sets the stage for her friendships, romantic relationships, disappointments and her career.

Towles evokes a lively, and noir-ish, portrait of New York City where martinis, jazz and social status dictate. He does so with humor and emotion. Katey works in a secretarial pool in a large financial firm, but her interests lie elsewhere. No sooner is she promoted then she quits to work for an editor past his prime: “He stopped taking on projects and watched with quiet reserve as his authors died off one by one – at peace with the notion that he would join them soon enough in that circle of Elysium reserved for plot and substance and the judicious use of the semicolon.”

Plot and substance are the stuff of Towles writing, which focuses on Katey’s relationship with Tinker Grey, a dashing banker of means. Through Tinker, she has access to upper society, although, as is often the case, appearances in any circle aren’t always what they appear.

Rules of Civility
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Penguin Books, 2011
335 pages, which includes The Young George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation

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