Archive for the ‘society’ Tag

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

Parenting Without Boundaries   2 comments


If you read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin be sure you have
someone with whom you can talk about it.

This disturbing, yet compelling, story unfolds through a series of letters written by
Eva to her absent husband, Franklin. The purpose of the letters is to try to under-
stand how their 15-year-old son, Kevin, could murder seven classmates, a teacher,
and a school cafeteria worker.

Through a clear almost detached, yet very personal, perspective Eva expresses the
difficulty she has in relinquishing her independence to become a mother. Following
Kevin’s birth, she continues to lack a natural maternal instinct. Still, Eva is not
without heartfelt emotion and empathy; she simply has difficulty showing these traits
to Kevin.

On the other hand, neither is Franklin completely blameless; although his side of the
story is not told. As seen through Eva’s eyes, Franklin maintains a vise-like grip on
the image of a happy, American family. His perception does not include discipline,
respect to others, or a recognition that there are two sides to every story.

Kevin is simply a bad kid, albeit an exceptionally bright one. The concept of uncon-
ditional love falters under Shriver’s pen. Parents are bound to examine their parent-
ing style and question whether it is the right approach. It is easy to be critical of
Eva and Franklin, but it’s hard to know if anyone else could have parented Kevin with
a different outcome.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2006
432 pages

(I wrote this review several years ago, but decided to post it here.)

Hope and Despair Meet Again   2 comments

Although I read a fair amount of nonfiction, my preference has always leaned toward fiction. As
I read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I had to remind myself this is a true
story – in  in fact, many true stories; it’s simply written with the smooth, eloquent narrative that
makes it read like a really good novel. But, it’s sad and it’s true.

Boo writes of the Annawadi slum in Mubai, India. For three years she follows the lives of several
families and child-scavengers all trying to survive in an overcrowded, rat-infested community of
makeshift structures that serve as homes. Mubai has numerous slums that fit this decription, but
Annawadi is the one located in the shadow of the international airport with its cosmopolitan hotels.

What makes Boo’s chronicle so intriguing are the people and their efforts to make more of their lives.
As if poverty alone were not enough to keep them down, they face government corruption, lapses of
moral judgment, and fear generated by religious differences. Boo’s account includes the experience
of Abdul who, with his father and older sister, is charged with murder when a vindictive neighbor
lights fire to herself. The family’s efforts to move out of Annawadi are thwarted as income is lost and
bribes must be paid.

This description of trying to exist in Mubai’s slums is much, much more than what most think of as a
hard-knock life. Yet, for their individual and collective foibles, these people continue to dream that
someday they will have more.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
256 pages

Posted April 19, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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