Rules of Civility by Amor Towels
The time is 1938-1939 and the place is New York City. The time and the place play as big a role as the characters themselves and Towels tells the story of social climbing and falling with style and poetic grace making it difficult to put down. .
The story is told from the point of view of Kate, a girl of middle class background from NY who is a no nonsense, brilliant woman. In the opening scene of the novel, set in the 1960s, Kate is attending an art show highlighting subway photos from the late 30s. She sees two photos of a man, Tinker Grey, whom she recognizes, one in 1938 where he is dressed to the nines and the other in 1939 where he appears dirt poor, yet 20 years younger and happy. From here, the story opens with Kate’s reflection of those two pivotal years on her remarkable career, and on her friendships and loves. She begins her story when she and fellow boarding house roommate Eve find themselves in a bar on New Years Eve, 1937, about to ring in 1938, when they meet a wealthy and handsome man: Tinker Grey. And thus develops a complicated story where the lives of those who want outshine the lives of those who need. At one point, Tinker’s “godmother” Ann states, “Most people have more needs than wants. That why they live the lives they do. But the world is run by those whose wants outstrip their needs.” Towels brings in great literary references throughout the book, from Dickens to Thoreau to Dante. But the crux of the story is probably most defined by Kate’s reflection on advice given to her by her father “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.”
The book is full of lessons on self reflection, of the reminder that things are not always as they seem. Towel is poetic and thoughtful in writing and carefully selected words. The language of the day is subtle, just enough of a reminder that you are reading a bit of the past.
I loved and admired Kate. I so thoroughly enjoyed this story. It is chick lit no more than Fitzgerald is. It is a beautiful piece of historical fiction that will call you to itself until you have turned the last page. It is a story for the young searching for their place in the world and the wise who have grown from life’s lessons. It is a story for women who want to be at the top of the social sundae and those who cherish smarts and a career. It is a story for men whose value resides the size of their home and those whose value stems from living in the moment. You will want to highlight the words of wisdom and insight littered through the book and I daresay you will be thinking about the characters long after you finish.