Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Amor Towles’ debut novel Rules of Civility follows Katey Kontent, an uncompromising twenty-five-year-old with a keen intellect and cool nerve. Through a series of events, she finds her way into New York society in the 1930s.
Towles provides an elegant and captivating look at life in New York in the 1930s through the eyes of an independent young woman who navigates the upper echelons of society by chance. Throughout the book, she learns that every person has value and deserves respect despite their social status.
It’s 1938 in New York, and Katey Kontent (accent on second syllable please) is making her way through Manhattan nightlife. She works hard during the day as a typer at a big law firm in the Flatiron District, and then she flits between bars and dance halls on her way home to her flatiron boardinghouse.
Katey and her roommate Eve meet a handsome banker named Tinker Grey on New Year’s Eve and quickly grow to care about him. He seems to be a WASP, but he’s not quite what they think he is. They spend their days vying for his affections and trying to hide the fact that they are friends with him until an unexpected tragedy changes everything.
Towles’s tale of a girl who has to take on the world is very much of its time and place, but it’s also very entertaining. Katey is a genuinely smart, wry, and very plucky heroine who doesn’t let anything stand in her way of living her life the best way she can.
She works hard at her job but still aspires to do more than just survive and survive some more. She reads voraciously, enjoys art, contemporary music, and New York restaurants. She knows how to talk and write well, and she’s always ready to make the right move for her friends.
But when she finds herself involved in an illegal romance with a man from old money who is her godmother, she does something to throw things off balance. When she does, it’s a good thing that she has her eye on another man.
Despite her efforts, it’s never quite easy for Katey to be honest with herself about the things she wants or needs in life. She can’t bring herself to give up on her career or her dream of having a baby. She doesn’t like being tied down to one person or relationship, but she does love her friends and family and wants them all to be happy.
There are plenty of other characters who add flavor to the novel, and they are all a lot of fun. I particularly liked Dicky Vanderwhile, Wallace Wolcott, Bitsy, Peaches, Hank, and Anne Grandyn, but I was also intrigued by Katey’s relationships with a number of other people who seem to be part of the story. And I loved the way Amor Towles used his novel to explore the different ways that men in society can be manipulated and made to do what they want.
A witty and wise chronicle of the New York social set, Rules of Civility is a buzzed-about debut by Amor Towles. Its characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue sharp and Towles avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality to which a lesser writer might succumb.
Katey Kontent and her boardinghouse roommate Eve Ross go to a sleazy Greenwich Village jazz bar late on New Year’s Eve 1937, where they meet a handsome banker named Tinker Grey. Their chance meeting and its startling consequences cast Katey off her course and introduce her to a glittering new world of parties, posh offices, and unexpected introductions.
The pair become an instant, inseparable threesome, vying for Tinker’s attention and affection as they explore a relationship that could someday blossom. But before they can get serious, the trio is involved in a car accident, and while Katey’s unscathed, Eve is left with a scar and a bum leg.
Towles’ vivid descriptions of the Upper West Side’s upscale clubs and house parties, coupled with his expert observations of the way people behave, are a pleasure to read. While Towles never lets the characters overwhelm us with their emotions, he is sensitive to what he calls “those unseen threads of aspiration, envy, disloyalty, and desire that are just beneath the surface.”
After moving in together, Eve and Katey drift apart as they both seek different things from life. Even so, Katey is drawn to Tinker and he to her.
Despite this love triangle, Eve’s friendship with Katey is one of the book’s most interesting and compelling threads. When Eve is injured in a car accident, she has no choice but to take care of her best friend while attempting to keep their romance a secret.
But when Katey begins working for a new magazine, she learns that she is being pulled in more than one direction, and the truth about her true feelings becomes clear. And as the book’s shocking denouement approaches, Katey realizes that Tinker isn’t who he appears to be.
At the same time, Katey’s story is told from her perspective, and Towles makes use of her whip-smart observation to convey the complexities of Katey’s journey. While the novel is a fun and sly read, it’s a story that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading it.
Eve Goldstein is a top notch mental health professional with experience in the realm of neurological and neuropsychological assessment and treatment. She has devoted more than 25 years to helping children, teens and their families develop the emotional resilience and educational skills necessary to thrive across home, school and social settings.
She specializes in the area of ADHD and learning disabilities, executive functioning and study skills for academic success, and mental health advocacy. Her background in clinical psychology and teaching enables her to provide innovative, practical solutions to her clients.
One of her proudest achievements is the creation and implementation of a comprehensive program that educates and informs the public about the benefits of mental health. She also serves as an active board member and docent at the Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum, where she is a co-chair of the Holocaust Survivor Legacy Committee.
In her spare time, Eve is a classically trained soprano with an affinity for opera and musical theatre. Her latest role is a “high soprano soloist” in Anyone Can Whistle at Carnegie Hall, where she will be making her debut in December of 2021.
She has been described as the “smart one” by her peers, and is a natural leader with a flair for team building and organizational design. She is a true believer in the power of collaboration and has built strong partnerships with her staff, clients, and community organizations to ensure the best possible outcomes for those she represents. She is also an avid volunteer, contributing her time and expertise to a variety of nonprofits, including a leading voice for women’s rights and sexuality education. She has also served as a volunteer literacy tutor in Atlanta Public Schools.
Rules of Civility, Amor Towles’ debut novel, is an elegant reimagining of the American experience in 1938. It nods to the great novels of Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Henry James and Edith Wharton, but it’s something fresh.
In this gorgeous book, Amor Towles takes a Jamesian eye to how spur of the moment decisions define one’s life for years to come. Set in New York City, it evokes the glittering and gritty echelons of 1930s society while presenting us with an irresistible, captivating heroine who sets her own course, and a rich ensemble cast with a discerning eye and delicate hand.
Katey Kontent, born Katya to Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, begins 1938 in New York, a young woman with little more than her formidable intellect, bracing wit and a sense of cool nerve. She embarks on a year of twists and turns that will shape her future.
She meets four people who are each as extraordinary as she is in their own right: Eve Ross, an opportunist who’s as unstoppable as she is; Dickie Vanderwhile, a charming charmer with a waspy nickname; Wallace Wolcott, a gentle soul from old money; and two influential older women, Anne Grandyn and Mason Tate. All three become instant and powerfully influential in her life.
Then a tragedy strikes, throwing all relationships askew. Katey is forced to confront her own insecurities and reevaluate her beliefs about herself.
But when she reunites with Tinker, who rescued her from the streets, their friendship takes on a new dimension. Their relationship evolves into a true friendship, but they never truly get over their love for each other.
Eventually, Tinker becomes too much for Katey to handle. He tries to live by George Washington’s Rules of Civility, but his family name and New York society have an unhealthy grip on him.
As the story unfolds, we learn more about Wallace, who is a kind and sensible man who likes to stay away from partying and social events. His shooting club is not quite as impressive as it appears to Katey, but he loves his family’s East Coast dynasty with its home in the Adirondacks and its membership at a bucolic gun club. He’s a good companion, friend and excellent shooter. When Wallace ships to Spain to fight Franco, Katey helps him prepare for the war.