Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (July Meetup)

13339004Another bookclub meetup is in the books! We met on Sunday afternoon to discuss Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. And even though there were only four of us in attendance, I still think we had a very interesting and in depth discussion. Several members who were unable to attend emailed me to let me know how much they really enjoyed this story of a girl in 1930s NYC.

Book Jacket: (because I’m having the hardest time summarizing)

“On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel her on a yearlong journey toward the upper echelons of New York society – where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.”

Amor Towles has never written a book before. He also spent his career on Wall Street. The fact that he was able to pen this gem of a story really surprises and impresses me. And while the story isn’t perfect by any means and suffers from several ‘first novel’ weaknesses, I was really able to forgive all of those bits for the sheer quality of his writing – the emotions he was able to evoke and the imagery he created. In short, I’m thrilled the Litwits selected this novel and even more thrilled that Towles just recently released a novella following Eve, another central character to the plot of Rules of Civility.

While there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation and enjoyment from the ladies, the conversation wasn’t entirely positive. Some members felt that the dialog lacked a true 1930s feel and that some of the details weren’t historically accurate. These inaccuracies distracted them and affected their reading of the book. We also wished that Tinker and Eve’s characters had been more fleshed-out, but enjoyed Katey’s character development quite a bit. With the publication of his short novella centered on Eve, I think Towles himself actually believed Eve needed more depth and exploration. We talked in great detail about whether or not Towles’s decision to write from the female perspective worked – whether he was able to write convincingly female characters –  and were ultimately torn.

For me, Rules of Civility is a novel that wonderfully evokes 1930s noir novels. I felt that darker, grittier atmosphere come alive and enjoyed Katey’s story immensely. I especially loved the lyrical writing and the many literary references tossed throughout – particularly Katey’s love of Great Expectations. If I had to sum up my reading, I’d stay Towles’s first novel is a debut with moments of brilliance. Those moments have me earnestly awaiting his next novel as I think he’s going to only improve with time and experience.