Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Paperback, 2011 published by Penguin Books, 335 pages including the Appendix which is amusing to read, The Young George Washington's  110 Rules of Civility & Decent  Behaviour in Company and Conversation,  from whence comes the title.  This is the first novel by Amor Towles who is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.  He  opens  with Matthew 22: 8--14.  I was pleased with the depth of understanding and presentation of the  book's characters.   It is a tale of lives, chance encounters, decisions and how they affect outcomes. 

The cover is misleading because it is not a story of the idle rich, lounging about  but  women's struggles through the post depression between 1937 and 1969.  It is introduced as Katey and Val attend a portrait exhibit by  Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art and she notices portraits of Tinker Grey, a wealthy man she used to know back when.  The tale weaves around the lives of  Katey Kontent and Eve Ross, a transplanted midwesterner, both career girls working  in New York.  In 1937 Eve and Katey meet Tinker in a jazz bar in Greenwich Village.  The novel twists with Eve snagging Tinker after a horrific accident, for which he feels guilty.  They live the high life as Eve recuperates and Tinker cares for her and the  solid friendship between  the women falls apart. Life goes on and they reconnect.    Other wonderful characters some mysterious until the ending are Dicky Vanderwhile, Wallace Woolcott, Bitsy, Peaches, Hank and Anne Grndyn.  Each character helps shape Katey's future, just as all the people of our lives shape us.   Meantime Katey  continues to advance in the secretarial pool and ultimately goes on to work for an editor .  It is a good story, surprising in outcomes.  Each  section  has an era photograph, images that fit the story. The writing is good with memorable lines portraying life in  an era in the big  city with all levels of society and culture from  melting pot to the most elitist. 

Pg 18,  .."He had that certain confidence in his bearing that democratic interest in his surroundings  and this understated presumption of friendliness that are only found in young men who have been raised in the company of money and manners.  It didn't occur to people like this that  they might be unwelcome in a new environment--and as a result they rarely were."  

Pg 37..."be careful when choosing what you're proud of--because the world has every intention of using it against you."

Pg 128.."Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high minded, but when  a person looses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane--in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath--she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger.  What my father was trying to tell me as he neared the conclusion of his own course was that this risk should not be treated lightly.  One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.  "

Pg 150..". I think we all have some parcel of the past which is falling into disrepair or being sold off piece by piece.  It's just that for most of us, it isn't an orchard, it's the way we've thought about something or someone." 

Pg 323 "It is a bit of a cliche to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time--by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries.  But for most of us, life is nothing like that.  Instead we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options.....In that sense life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge.  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." 

Pg 324.."I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss." 

The author hints at a sequel in his reading guide.  I give this  4 ****.