Fabulous Fiction Firsts #288

At long last, got my copy of Rules of Civility * by debut novelist Amor Towles. Mesmerized by the seductive language and imagery, my lunch temporarily forgotten, I found myself at MOMA at the 1966 Walker Evans' Exhibition Many Are Called, of photos taken on the New York City subways in the 1930s with a hidden camera.

Narrator Katey Kontent is at the opening with her husband Val, who has no knowledge of Katey's connection to one of Evan's subjects - Tinker Grey, and Katey is intent on keeping her secrets private.

New Years Eve 1937, the 25 year old Katey and roommate Eve Ross met Tinker Grey, a handsome patrician banker with easy charm at a Greenwich Village jazz bar, this chance encounter would alter the course of their lives.

The title, taken from George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (see appendix) is a reminder that how spur-of-the-moment decisions could define one's future, and bear in mind always, Rule #110, that the "Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience".

"Elegant and captivating... , Rule of Civility is remarkable for its strong narrative, original characters and a voice influenced by Fitzgerald and Capote, but clearly true to itself". It is also a tribute and a kaleidoscopic portrait of arty-boozy-jazz-aged Manhattan in the late1930s when an optimistic nation was rising out of the Depression and the world was being drawn into another war. Amidst the prosperity, the contrast between the working masses and privileged class was never more stark.

Snappy dialogue and descriptive prose, wrapped in a compelling narrative would please Edith Wharton readers. Also try Louis Auchincloss. His Manhattan Monologues and East Side Story (among his 60 works) will affirm his rightful claim as the "chronicler of New York's Upper Crust" and the master of manners.

* = Starred review. (Here are links to reviews in USA Today and The New York Times).