Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Four Stars)


Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

(Four Stars)

“Like any Manhattanite of means, she had identified a need and paid to have it serviced. In its own perverse way, her purchase of a young man’s favors was perfectly in keeping with the unapologetic self-possession that made her so impressive.”

New York City in 1938 as seen through the eyes of an idle rich wannabee. Based on the concept that NYC was (and is) the center of the universe, and that life should be lived as if there’s no yesterday or tomorrow. The protagonist is from the working poor but strives to become one of the idle rich by getting as close to them as possible. There’s a price.

“In moments of high emotion—whether they’re triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment—if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say.”

Loosely referential to George Washington’s “Rules of Civility” with other high-concept literature. Lots of philosophic reflection; not that it interferes with the hedonistic lifestyle. Not a bad story, but the sum is somehow less than the total of the parts.

“I think we all have some parcel of the past which is falling into disrepair or being sold off piece by piece. It’s just that for most of us, it isn’t an orchard; it’s the way we’ve thought about something, or someone.”

Towles draws the reader right into the imagined world. Idiosyncratic punctuation; easily mastered. Quotation marks are generally abandoned in favor of dashes at the beginning of dialogue.

“Old times, as my father used to say: If you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.”