Rules of Civility, Amor Towles, Viking, 2011, 324 pp
I had been mildly interested in this one. Really I just liked the title and the cover. But I had been so disappointed by The Paris Wife which came out around the same time and is set in the same era, that I kept putting off reading it. Also I thought the author was female but Amor Towles is male, works at an investment firm in Manhattan, and looks middle-aged in his author photo.
I was pleasantly surprised by a well-written, page-turner that started out like a piece of fluff but went ever deeper as the story progressed. Working class girls mix with the upper crust, drink lots of gin in jazz clubs, and the secrets of the characters are discovered by a first person narrator named Katey Kontent.
This voice of Katey's was not convincingly female but, as it turned out, she was a highly intelligent, self-sufficient young woman, one who grew up in the heady Jazz Age years when women first got the vote and had unheard of freedoms. Of course, she falls for the wrong guy. The story of their love is unlike most of the modern romances I have read. It combines tenderness and grit.
Amor Towles owes a debt to many bestsellers I've read from the 1940s: John O'Hara, James Hilton, John P Marquand, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Jane Ward, to name a few authors who wrote great commercial fiction in that decade.
I can highly recommend Rules of Civility to almost any reader. An inspiring heroine, New York City in the late 1930s, and that very American trait where the rich are not always who they appear to be, make the novel alluring and thought provoking at the same time.
(Rules of Civility is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)