book summary

Rules of Civility Characters

A sleek debut novel set in the glittering and gritty New York City of 1938, Rules of Civility is an elegant and captivating look at spur of the moment decisions that define life. Taking readers from Gatsbyesque parties to jazz dives, Conde Nast offices and luxe suites at The Plaza, Towles captures the essence of New York and its social strata.

Katey Kontent

A “sharply stylish” (Boston Globe) novel about a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society, Rules of Civility is a wonderful romantic journey back to the Jazzy days of late 1930’s New York.

A chance encounter propels Katey Kontent, a bright and feisty twenty-five-year-old from Brooklyn into the stratospheric levels of New York society–where she will have to navigate her way through the people who color her life. At every step, she meets people who change her, who challenge and push her to be more than just her socially privileged self.

The characters are well-drawn and the dialogue sharp, but what really elevates this novel is Amor Towles’s writing. He avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality that might detract from a lesser writer’s style, and he has crafted sentences that demonstrate genuine care for the building blocks of a good novel.

This story focuses on Katey’s brashness and her love of books, but it also explores the importance of honor and what it means to be a true citizen. At the center of her story are four men who try to live up to these standards and the heroine who wrestles with them all throughout.

It is an uplifting read and it is easy to get pulled into Katey’s world, but at the same time her honesty about her loss and terror of reaching out for what she wants in life, is a refreshing reminder that one should always be true to themselves. Despite her devastation and fears, she is always willing to give and accept the loyalty of those she meets along the way.

In the end, Katey comes out of the experience with a better understanding of herself and with a heart filled with the love of her friends. And that is what makes Rules of Civility such a joy to read.

Eve Grey

Eve Grey is from the Mid-west with high hopes. She lives in a boarding house and works in a secretarial pool for a law firm. She is bubbly and always gossiping to her patients. She is also a Middletonian, which means she knows her small town and all the people in it very well.

On the last night of 1937 Katey Kontent, now Eve Grey (accent on the second syllable), is out with her friend enjoying a New Year’s eve in Greenwich Village. When a man in a cashmere coat walks into the bar they are seated at, Katey and Eve invite him to their table. He is charming and handsome and Katey instantly becomes interested in him.

While Tinker is intrigued by Katey, they quickly begin to grow closer together. They enjoy their nights out at jazz clubs, gin, and memorable meals together. But an accident leaves Eve injured and forced to move in with Tinker, a situation that puts Katey at odds with her bestie.

Sandra Oh gives the character of Eve a magnetic quality, and she’s beautifully rendered in this film. She’s a woman who is both extremely sharp and very naive, and her ability to keep her focus and her uncertainty incredibly compelling makes this role one of the most interesting in the entire series.

Tinker Grey

Rules of Civility, the debut novel by Amor Towles, was a New York Times bestseller in 2011. The story is set during the 1930s and revolves around spunky roommates Katey Kontent and Eve Ross as they work their way up the social ladder in New York society.

In a flashback scene, Katey visits an exhibition of photographs by Walker Evans that were taken surreptitiously on the subway during the 1930s. The exhibit sends her back to her past and she recognizes two photos of a man named Tinker Grey that she used to know.

The first photo shows Tinker looking wealthy, but sullen. The second photo shows him roughshod and happy. He is an artist and has a grumpy brother, Hank, who resents his lifestyle.

Anne Grandin, an older woman who has a close relationship with Tinker, is also very important in the story. She has an air of wealth and power, but she is also a very understanding woman who can see the best in Tinker.

Her advice to Katey is particularly important in the later part of the story. She helps Katey to realize that there are some things in life you can’t control.

As the novel progresses, Katey comes to learn that she can’t control what happens to her, but she can always choose how to react to it. She begins to take chances and try to befriend people she wouldn’t normally like, including her younger lover and her brother.

Her friendship with Tinker and his brother reveals a lot about how her choices impact others’ lives. She is forced to make a decision about who she wants to be. Does she want to be a person who is bound by rules of civility, or a person who follows their own heart?

Nathan Thoreau

The rules of civility characters have many commonalities, including an interest in nature and simple living. Both Katey and Tinker are drawn to the writings of Henry David Thoreau, particularly Walden.

Thoreau, who lived in Concord, Massachusetts for most of his life, was a hermit and naturalist who was also a philosopher, writer, and social activist. He published two books and a large number of shorter essays, journals, poems, and translations during his lifetime.

His works primarily concern the nature of human experience and its relationship to the universe, as well as the philosophy of science. He was also a social and political activist, taking part in the Underground Railroad, protesting the Fugitive Slave Law, and supporting John Brown.

In his philosophy, Thoreau sought to find a reflective understanding of reality that would help him lead an ethically conscious life and thereby avoid an existential stalemate. In his work, Thoreau explored a wide range of issues in metaphysics and epistemology, and drew on a variety of traditions, ranging from Descartes to Locke and Emerson to the Cambridge Platonists and German Idealists.

He was also an advocate of bioregionalism and the protection of animals and the natural environment, as well as a critic of modern technology, consumerism, philistinism, and mass entertainment. He spoke out against the Mexican War and the subjugation of Native Americans, and he was an activist in the abolitionist movement, participating in the Underground Railroad and promoting the ideas of social justice.

The most famous of his works is the book, Walden, which describes Thoreau’s life in nature next to Walden Pond. Bennett, who has retraced Thoreau’s three backwoods trips in the mid-19th century, uses the essays, journals, and maps from the book to explore the areas that Thoreau traveled, as well as the plants, animals, and wildlife that he encountered.

Wallace Dicky

For many people, a single year can change their lives forever. And in 1938 for Katey Kontent, it’s that one special year that sets her on the path to who she will be.

As she works her way through New York society, Katey meets four extraordinary people: Eve Grey, a hard-working woman who’s opportunistic and ambitious; Tinker Grey, a rags-to-riches scion; Dicky Vanderwhile, a charming, hyperman who knows everyone white and rich in town; and Wallace Wolcott, a kind, quiet, noble man who values family and friendships.

When Wallace takes Katey to the North Fork of Long Island to go shooting, she sees a simple world of old-money charm. He’s a great shot and makes her feel at home. He also introduces her to Bitsy Houghton, another member of the bucolic gun club Wallace belongs to.

After a while, Katey and Wallace become friends. They enjoy each other’s company and help Wallace prepare for war. When Wallace decides to ship out to Spain to fight Franco, Katey helps him get ready for the experience.

She and Wallace soon form an intense bond that spans decades. When Wallace dies in the Spanish Civil War, Katey mourns him deeply.

In her grief, Katey comes to realize that she’s been hurting Dicky. She feels remorse for causing him pain in her life and wants to make amends. But she’s afraid that if she does, it will be too late.

I think that Amor Towles did a wonderful job of portraying the different stages of Katey’s life. I found her writing elegant and engaging with an almost effervescent quality. It was a joy to read and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future!

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