Rules of Civility, Amor Towles

Amor Towles takes us back

to a different time

Initial thoughts ( recorded books:

7/23/12  Why is a woman with a young voice narrating this?

7/26/12: P. 135 — slow going, but I am enjoying it. Took a break to read a Lee Child short story Deep Down, A Jack Reacher Story, which was pretty good. This Rules of Civility is packed with wonderful literary and cultural and New York allusions, and the plot, slow and plodding though it is, is engaging. I wish it were more of a page turner, though. Maybe it will pick up as Katey Kontent develops. I like the juxtaposition between Katey and Eve, and I do not feel put upon by the author to make a value judgment about either character, though I have been tempted. I need to remember the Prologue/Intro which moves Katey forward 50 years to remember that things may not continue as they stand in the late 1930s.

Daily Notes:  7/26/12:  P. 157 — okay, now it begins. I am starting to love Katey Kontent while beginning to trust Ms. Towles. I was becoming suspicious of Katey’s lists of books, authors and literature in general, but it is now clear and it is now acceptable because, it all leads to this fine new turn of events. In fact, because I am a Tolstoy fanatic, and I should have seen it coming, the references to the Russian writers was all the more delightful.

A shift has occurred in the telling. There is more alacrity now, more excitement by the writer to be writing about the things he loves. Will she be able to maintain the original plot (Eve & Tinker) through Katey’s maturity? I am getting more interested now.

7/28/12: I loved this book. It borders on literary, while retaining some of the lights of commercial fiction, with a chick-lit slant. The story moved at a perfect pace. The revelations came right on time and some of the “shockers” really did throw me. I loved the slow build of details — her background, her physical appearance and her inclinations were all given at appropriate times in appropriate servings.

I found the character of Katey very observant and wry, keen and cool, even when she learned she was wrong. But if there is one thing lacking, it is Katey’s failure to reveal herself to us, her readers. We know a lot about her activities, but not a lot about her heart. We know how she reacted/responded to insults, kindnesses and double crossing, but we don’t know much about her inner turmoils.

Maybe that’s the hardest thing to write. Maybe when we use ourselves as even a thin container for our fictional characters, we are so self-preserving that we must keep back some of the visceral responses to pain and ecstacy. If I were to have met Katey Kontent, I would not have found her interesting. Rather I would think she was accommodating, like a concierge or a hostess, but I would not feel drawn to hang out with her.

In fact, Katey’s friendships are shallow, empty of real feelings. When Eve deceives her or needs her, Katey is never angry. When Tinker’s true colors are known, she is in no anguish and has no true rage. Her way of losing Tinker’s effect on her is to take up with an old friend, to turn Dickie into her lover, sans love.

With her job, Katey is a perfectionist. She does not wilt under pressure, and in a whole three years, she only played hooky one day. She endured two weeks of alienation and disapproval by her boss; she was only redeemed when one of her BIG IDEAS came to fruition in the mind of her boss.

Katey tells us about her successes, without the flush of pride and without a fuss. She lists her accomplishments with cool indifference — much like Washington’s pointed Rules of Civility.

While she spends much of the book talking about the civility and incivility of some of her friends, she is living the Rules as best she can. In her angst, she maintains poise. In her anger, she shines benevolently.

I question an author’s failure to allow their beloved characters the humanity of sufferng. In this book, secondary characters  suffer. We see their degradation and we hear it in their words. We see their reduced conditions and we actually feel for them.

Katey is static. She never changes. She is content. She admits some wrong assumptions, but she never moves on from mistaken convictions. Once she recognizes her errors, she accepts them and continues behaving the same way. She has a “thing” for Tinker, but she never reflects on what she feels for him. She simply reacts to his action or inaction in her life. She reacts to others who speak of him, and she reacts to others who attempt to divert her from him, but she never suffers for him or rejoices for him. She doesn’t run to him or from him. She slaps him once.

The best part of the book (from the point of view of her various friendly and romantic relationships) was the cat and mouse game she played with Ann Grandyne. In a middle chapter she identifies in Anne Grandyne’s mastery of the “closing remark.” Ann’s final scene is the ultimate closing remark.

The bookend structure of the present vs. the past is interesting, and one which I feel was not fully visited by Amor Towles. I am not clear on her relationship with “Val” and not sure if she is happy, regretful, accepting, cold, warm, anything.

The stories and anecdotes that fill the telling of Katey’s “coming of age” years are wonderful; each could be a standalone volume of its own. The characters are rich and sympathetic, interesting and finely honed. But Katey remains a mystery to me.

3 Responses “Rules of Civility, Amor Towles” →
  1. Interesting that Amor Towles writes such compelling female characters as a man. Loved the book, couldn’t put it down (to the detriment of my own personal deadlines)

    • Agreed. Did you get a chance to hear Amor discuss his book on Goodreads? He was very forthcoming about his processes and the ideas that formed the book. Glad I read it before I heard his explanation. Thanks for your comment.

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  1. thewryterreviews -- Room, by Emma Donoghue

    […] : A Novel. Donoghue, Emma, New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2010. Print.Rules of Civility, Amor TowlesSouth of Broad, Pat ConroyStill Life with Crows. New York: Warner Books, Preston, Douglas J., […]

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