Rules of Civility was the buzz book this summer at my internship. First, Penguin ran a really clever Twitter campaign inviting followers to invent their own rules of civility (my rule: Thou shalt not walk in the streets in NYC if thou art a tourist. Because you won’t watch where you’re going. And then you’ll get hit by a cab.), then the book hit the New York Times bestseller list, and then my boss told me how much she loved it and how she thought I’d like it too. So, I took a glance at the jacket copy, and once I saw 1930s and New York City, I was sold. When it arrived at my library, I had to force myself not to crack it open immediately and finish the book I was already reading. With all the excitement, though, came wariness: would this book really live up to the hype?
Within the first ten pages, the answer was clearly yes.
Rules of Civility follows working class girl Katey Kontent through two years of climbing New York’s economic and social ladder. It begins on New Year’s Eve of 1937, and Katey and her friend Eve are at a bar in the Village, trying to stretch $3 as far as it will go. Enter Tinker Grey, a young and well-off gentleman who immediately captures the interests of both of the girls. They start spending time together, with the girls showing Tinker how they have a good time while low on cash, but all of that comes to a screeching halt when the three of them get into an accident and Eve is severely wounded. As the driver, Tinker feels responsible and nurses Eve back to health, and they begin a relationship. Katey copes with her wounded feelings by getting a new job and throwing herself into the hedonistic social scene of the idle rich. When Tinker and Eve break up, he and Katey start seeing each other again, but very soon afterwards, Katey learns that Tinker is not what he seems.
Amor Towles is a brilliant storyteller who, I felt, truly captured the New York City of the 1930s. From the jazz clubs, to the big houses on Long Island, to the Conde Nast offices, each place was so perfectly atmospheric. I was also really fascinated by the aimlessness of the characters as they made their way through their upwardly mobile lives; it was almost Gatsby-like, only a bit more accessible for me because these people were my age and going through similar things. And I loved the way Towles swung back and forth between the rich kids and the bohemian crowd; the different personalities brought such color to the story and kept me reading.
Some may be a little dissatisfied by the way things end. I admit that I would have liked a little more information about Katey’s life, post-Tinker, but as the story is really about the two of them, I can see why the author would choose not to discuss it.
I can’t wait for this book to come out in paperback. I must own it!