It is a rare occasion when the title of a book not only hints at the plot but perfectly describes the stylistic tone as well. The Rules of Civility is just such a book and it is a grand first effort for author Amor Towles.
Towles takes us into
in 1938. Wealthy
Manhattan , where what is said and seen on the surface is
often not what is happening underneath. Through a series of seemingly
coincidental meetings Katey and her friend Eve find themselves socializing with
the young privileged elite. This despite Katey being from Manhattan Brooklyn (definitely the wrong side of the tracks). For a time their path converges
with an elusive bachelor and his circle of friends but while Eve schemes
personally, Katey focuses on getting out of the secretarial pool and into the
world of publishing. We follow all three throughout the book but only Katey is
true to herself. She gives back as good as she gets, if not better, and unlike
her wealthier compatriots, conquers without being conquered. Manhattan
Towles’s prose is as silken and smooth as the gin martinis his characters endlessly imbibe. But unlike their attitudes, it’s not glib or slick, although some of the dialogue gets a bit clichéd. Instead, he uses words sparingly and with precision which imbues the reader with a feeling of being enveloped in a different era.
This is not a classic but, like much of Fitzgerald’s work, Towles captures the nuances of time and place in every sentence. Not easy to do but his words move as lightly along the surface as do the lives of his characters and the reader feels they are in the midst of the story. Bottom line? This book encompasses everything that makes me love reading: marvelous prose and a protagonist I want to know more about.