With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age of screwball comedy, gal-pal camaraderie and romantic mischief.
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times
This very good first novel about striving and surviving in Depression-era Manhattan deserves attention The great strength of Rules of Civility is in the sharp, sure-handed evocation of Manhattan in the late '30s.
Wall Street Journal
Even the most jaded New Yorker can see the beauty in Amor Towles' Rules of Civility, the antiqued portrait of an unlikely jet set making the most of Manhattan.
San Francisco Chronicle
The new novel we couldn't put down...in the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave - and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.
Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent...[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he's writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.
In his smashing debut, Towles details the intriguing life of Katherine Kontent and how her world is upended by the fateful events of 1938. Kate and her roommate, Evelyn Ross, have moved to Manhattan for its culture and the chance to class up their lives with glamour—be it with jazz musicians, trust fund lotharios, or any man with a hint of charm who will pay for dinner and drinks. Both Kate and Evelyn are enamored of sophisticated Tinker Grey, who they meet in a jazz club; he appears to be another handsome, moneyed gent, but as the women vie for his affection, a tragic event may seal a burgeoning romance's fate. New York's wealthy class is thick with snobbery, unexpected largesse, pettiness, jealousies, and an unmistakable sense of who belongs and who does not, but it's the undercurrent of unease—as with Towles's depiction of how the upper class can use its money and influence to manipulate others' lives in profoundly unsavory ways—that gives his vision depth and complexity. His first effort is remarkable for its strong narrative, original characters and a voice influenced by Fitzgerald and Capote, but clearly true to itself.
On New Year's Eve 1937, at a jazz bar in New York's Greenwich Village, Katey and Eve are charmed by the handsome and successful Tinker Grey. The three become fast friends and spend early 1938 exploring the town together, until a car accident permanently injures Eve. Feeling guilty, Tinker, the driver, takes care of Eve and unsuccessfully tries to love her. Despite the presence and initial impact of Tinker and Eve, though, this first novel is about Katey's 1938. Eve moves on, and Tinker fades, but Katey, the narrator, stays to challenge the New York bourgeois unwaveringly with her acerbic wit, capturing the attention of several doting men. She quits her job as a typist and pursues a career as editor of a respected, if risqué, society magazine. And Katey does it without a handout (she thinks). Verdict: Historical love story. Snappy dialog and sophisticated characters. A romantic look at the difficulties of being a New Yorker. But not, as the publisher suggests, reminiscent of Fitzgerald, though similar themes (class, betrayal, despair) arise. This novel would, however, make a nice (contemporary) companion to novels like The Great Gatsby and is thusly recommended.—Stephen Morrow, Ohio Univ., Columbus.
Manhattan in the late 1930s is the setting for this saga of a bright, attractive and ambitious young woman whose relationships with her insecure roommate and the privileged Adonis they meet in a jazz club are never the same after an auto accident. Towles' buzzed-about first novel is an affectionate return to the post–Jazz Age years, and the literary style that grew out of it (though seasoned with expletives). Brooklyn girl Katey Kontent and her boardinghouse mate, Midwestern beauty Eve Ross, are expert flirts who become an instant, inseparable threesome with mysterious young banker Tinker Grey. With him, they hit all the hot nightspots and consume much alcohol. After a milk truck mauls his roadster with the women in it, permanently scarring Eve, the guilt-ridden Tinker devotes himself to her, though he and she both know he has stronger feelings for Katey. Strong-willed Katey works her way up the career ladder, from secretarial job on Wall Street to publisher's assistant at Condé Nast, forging friendships with society types and not allowing social niceties to stand in her way. Eve and Tinker grow apart, and then Kate, belatedly seeing Tinker for what he is, sadly gives up on him. Named after George Washington's book of moral and social codes, this novel documents with breezy intelligence and impeccable reserve the machinations of wealth and power at an historical moment that in some ways seems not so different from the current one. Tinker, echoing Gatsby, is permanently adrift. The novel is a bit light on plot, relying perhaps too much on description. But the characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue is sharp and Towles avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality to which a lesser writer might succumb. An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn't seem more familiar with his characters or territory.
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