book summary

Rules of Civility

rules of civility characters

Amor Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, is a luminous depiction of 1938 Manhattan life. In it, Amor Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy in his crisp writing and sparkling atmosphere.

The book centers around Katey Kontent, who is living in a boardinghouse in 1938 Manhattan. She and her roommate Eve Ross meet a rich banker named Tinker Grey on New Year’s Eve and spend the next few weeks getting close to him.

Tinker Grey

Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility is a charming and sophisticated debut novel that takes its Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, Rules of Civility quickly catches readers under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote and McCarthy.

A chance encounter on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar lands Katey Kontent and her roommate Eve Ross in the company of Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes. A sequence of unexpected events leads to their relationship and Katey’s transformation into a successful young woman in the upper echelons of New York society.

Early on, Katey finds a copy of George Washington’s “Rules of Civility,” a hundred and ten precepts for civilized conduct. She sees them as a do-it-yourself charm school, a sort of How to Win Friends and Influence People 150 years ahead of its time.

She also deems them to be “the most fanciful and impractical of all the nebulous rules that govern human interactions.” But she is wary of their influence. She ponders whether they are wholly inapplicable to Tinker or are part of his character.

Her observations encapsulate a key theme of the book, which is that wealth and power can give people the wherewithal to manipulate others’ choices. But on a more subtle level, they can also leave them unprepared for unforeseen consequences that can lead to disaster.

Eve Ross

Katey Kontent, the protagonist of Amor Towles’s debut novel Rules of Civility, is an unpretentious, naive twenty-five year-old from Brooklyn. She has hopped the East River, ready to take on what 1938’s Manhattan has to offer.

In a New Year’s Eve nightclub outing, Katey and her roommate Eve Ross meet Tinker Grey, a wealthy WASP (white Anglo Saxon Protestant) with an enticing aura of old family power and influence. Pushy Eve immediately dibs him for her, but the two women soon realize that they have much more in common than they previously thought.

As they grow closer, Katey and Eve have a series of surprising encounters with the rich, powerful and charismatic men they meet along the way. One such encounter leads to a revelation that will change their lives forever.

Towles’s luminous prose is stylish and elegant, and it glides effortlessly past the story’s many turns of events. Ultimately, it’s this writing that takes the reader into Eve Ross’s life and her world – a time when the American dream was still alive and thriving but not without its dark underbelly.

Throughout the book, Towles brilliantly evokes the look and feel of a time when the future was looking bleak. He is a master of the literary form, creating a cast of characters whose actions and motivations are complex, nuanced and full of drama.

The story is framed by a moment in Jane’s memory, when she abruptly remembers a traumatic incident from her girlhood. This event, coupled with a mysteriously vanished friend, gives Jane a glimpse into her former life. Her recollections are then used to shape her present-day life, and in turn the lives of Katey and her friends.

Katey Kontent

Katey Kontent has left Brighton Beach behind and hopped the East River to New York, where she has found a job as a secretary in a big law firm. At night, she enjoys sampling the jazz bars in Greenwich Village and partying with her best friend Eve Ross.

Katey is a good-looking, independent woman with an eye for sex and a talent for finding her own way. She and her best friend Eve have a great time on their New Year’s Eve outing and by chance meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker they quickly fall for.

The pair spend the next few weeks growing closer, until an unexpected tragedy throws everything into chaos, and Katey finds herself on a path of choices she never expected. Her story is a captivating and sometimes heartbreaking one, but it’s also an uplifting tale.

Rules of Civility is an entertaining and evocative look at 1930s New York society. It evokes the looks, sounds and vibe of the period in a wonderful debut novel by Amor Towles.

A chance encounter propels Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society, where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Towles uses a finely tuned balance of intention and chance to weave a complex, fascinating tale about honor and morality in the world of high society. He also explores the complexities of love and romance, the demands of social climbing and the ways in which people might entice others to behave dishonorably.

Katey is a delightfully believable character, and Towles has crafted a book that will delight readers young and old. It will leave them with a lasting impression of 1930s Manhattan and the moral dilemmas that characterized the era.

Wallace Walcott

Amor Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, evokes the mores and manners of 1938 New York City as he transports readers to an era when social stratification was sharply defined. Like his much-loved second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, which incorporated nods to the great Russian writers and shades of Eloise at the Plaza and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Towles writes with grace and verve about a society on the cusp of change.

Rule of Civility introduces us to Katey Kontent, a 23-year-old orphan American born of Russian immigrant parents. The year she meets Tinker Grey, Eve Ross, Dickie Vanderwhile and Wallace Wolcott is one that will shape her life.

We see her as a young woman who is ambitious and resourceful, who works toward having a more rewarding job while still mingling in the world of New York society. We also get to know her friends, and we learn that Katey isn’t enthralled by wealth as much as she is by the people she meets.

Her relationship with Tinker Gray is the central focus of the story, but we also see Katey interact with other people as she tries to survive New York. She eats, sleeps and laughs with people from all walks of life.

The characters are well-defined and interesting, not cliched or predictable. We also get to see a lot of Katey’s personality through her relationships with others, which is important.

I loved reading Rules of Civility, and it’s a book I recommend to all my friends. I think it’s one of those books that will always make you think. It’s elegantly written and compulsively readable, and you’ll want to read it again and again.

Dicky Walcott

Dicky Walcott is one of the wealthy friends who Evie and Tinker try to match up with Katey. He is a radio announcer and sports director for NBC-affiliated stations in Baton Rouge, LA and Myrtle Beach, SC. He also broadcast football for the Catholic High Bears in Natchez, MS.

Derek Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, on January 23, 1930. He grew up on the island and attended university there in 1951. He received a Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship to study at the University of the West Indies.

In Books and Bookmen Romilly Cavan notes that “Walcott’s plays are full of ‘folk elements’—languages that have a rhythm, a way of speaking that is distinctly their own.” The presence of chants, jokes, folk-songs, and fables in his work caused critics like the Los Angeles Times’ Juana Duty Kennedy to call his plays “folk dramas.”

He was a professional officer at the Industrial and Technological Museum, Victoria, where he worked from 1900 to 1914. He later resigned to become a freelance writer and poet.

The theme of exile and homesickness is a major part of Walcott’s work. It is a theme that he carries with him wherever he goes, and his writing about it demonstrates an unparalleled level of imagination.

Although he often uses metaphor, he never seems to strain for effect. He writes in a free form that is rich and effortless. This is one of the reasons his poems are so powerful.

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