“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.”
Every now and then, I have the pleasure of reading a book that I can’t stop thinking about. This is how I feel about Rules of Civility. I can’t think of one person I would not recommend it to. Gin martinis, late-night escapades, jazz bands, and discrete Greenwich Village bars form the mortar of Amor Towles’ fantastic work. To those of you who have not yet read it: what are you waiting for? Rules of Civility is the contemporary, quintessential New York City novel.
Glamorous period detail will ensure that you are swept into the story, silk stockings askew, waiting to hail the next cab down 5th Ave. I wish! With lyrical prose, acute style, and careful, detail-driven scene-building, the novel exhibits as much cinematography as it does literary technique. While reading, it felt like I was watching a movie in my mind (and film rights have already been optioned!) As soon as I got into it, I could not put it down. I needed to know what happened, and how, and why.
Told from the vantage point of an older woman, Katey, looking back on her life, it’s a sophisticated, well-written interlude between New York City in the glittering 30s to the one of today. It’s about the friendships, the fateful events, the interconnected choices, the nightclubs, the getaways, and the never-ending lives of 20-somethings careening down Park Avenue to somewhere, Gatsby’s green light shining before them. Towles says that he wanted to show how the decisions we make in our twenties affect the rest of our lives. It makes you think about the right choices you’ve made in your life, and what you gave up in doing so. Meet Tinker, Eve, and Katey, three friends destined to change each other – and themselves.
When I connected the end to the beginning, I felt a gnawing sadness in my heart, for the 30s, and the characters, and the present, where the story begins, for all of it – but I knew it was the right ending. Sometimes, people meet to fall in love, or to become friends, or to help each other grow and move on. Life’s impenetrable reality cast glaring headlights on the tale. If it’s all supposed to happen in a certain way, then why do we try so hard to assuage the truth?
But I’m not about to give away the story. You’ll have to find out for yourself.