Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. It's true. However, the cover is what immediately drew me in when I got this book.  Set in New York City circa 1938, RULES OF CIVILITY follows the lives of three friends--Katey, Eve and Tinker.  When the three meet by chance on New Year's Eve, a chain of events is set into motion that will change all of their lives.  The story follows the three friends throughout the year of 1938. Tinker lives within the world of the wealthy while Katey and Eve are two career girls trying to scrape by in the Big City.  As Katey and Eve are drawn into Tinker's world, they must confront truths about themselves and what they believe.  Katey is the narrator of the story and she is a truly interesting and compelling character.  She gets all the snappy dialogue and is the one character who always seems to be true to herself.  The novel's title comes from a work by a teenaged George Washington who attempted to set out a list of rules for navigating for polite society.  Each character in the book attempts to define his/her own rules and figure out exactly who they want to be in this rarefied NYC world.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded a great deal of THE GREAT GATSBY.  I think similar issues are at play and Katey acts as a sort of Nick Carraway character although she is more engaged and affected by the action.  Towles' doesn't fall into the trap of making strict black and white moral judgements about the different characters.  There are both good and bad, moral and immoral characters in all stratas of New York society. The characters are all extremely well-drawn and interesting and Towles' keeps you guessing about their motivations and their choices.  Ultimately, this is not just a social commentary about society in a certain place and time. It is also a look at how spontaneous choices can affect and change our lives forever.  This book is a wonderfully well-written freshman effort by Towles and definitely left me wanting more.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  Well-written and compelling.  Interesting characters and an intriguing look into New York society during the late 1930's.  One of the best books I have read this year.

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