“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.
Why is it that the best books are sometimes the hardest to write about? I truly loved Rules of Civility, but I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to explain why.
Rules of Civility captures late 1930s New York brilliantly, with dialogue that snaps and a briskness to the tone that conveys the bustle and high spirits of people constantly on the go. Katey is a young woman with ambition, who starts with nothing and yet somehow ends up on top. Over the course of her year, she sees friends rise and fall, mingles in society with the upper crust wealthy elite, and slums it in low-rent jazz clubs and drinking holes. The characters occasionally feel like types we’ve seen before — the spoiled son of money, the striver with a secret, the party girl who always winds up with a free drink or two — but they still sparkle with individuality and practically zip through the ups and downs of the story.
Through it all, there are insights on secrets, ambition, and what truly makes for a happy life. The writing is lovely (although conversation can become hard to follow, as this author seems to have an aversion to quotation marks). Some of the plot twists seems to come out of nowhere, and I found myself repeatedly flipping backward through the book to find the hints and side comments that I’d missed. This is not at all a negative — there’s a lot of nuance hidden amidst the clever repartee and frantic energy of the action, and it makes for an especially engaging read overall.
Highly recommended — and once again, I need to give a shout-out to my awesome book club for picking Rules of Civility for our August read.
Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication date: July 26, 2011
Length: 335 pages
Genre: Historical fiction