Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

(book finished on August 4)

It's obvious that one's expectations going in to a book significantly affect how much a person will enjoy it. Over the years, I've also found that having no expectations, or not knowing anything about a novel, can be dangerous in its own way. A study found that "spoiling" a story actually increases our enjoyment of it, and, to some extent, I think pre-knowledge of a book's general direction also helps us like the book more. It doesn't mean there can't be surprises, but we like to know the situation we're getting into.

All of this is a roundabout way of introducing my experience with The Rules of Civility, a book I'd downloaded onto my Kindle a long time ago, but only got around to reading now. I had no idea what the book was about, and because of that, I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I might otherwise have done.

The book begins with friends Katey and Eve on New Year's Eve 1938. At a bar, they meet a rich man named Tinker, whom they begin a friendship with. Soon after, the three are in a car accident that leaves Eve somewhat disfigured, and she takes up residence (and a relationship) with Tinker. Now, from this beginning, I assumed the novel would be about Katey and Eve's relationship with each other and with Tinker. But, soon, Eve and Tinker largely drop out of the story (though Tinker importantly returns), which then focuses on the trials and tribulations of Katey's life as an independent woman in New York. There's nothing wrong with that story line, but I kept reading it as an interlude to the real story--I just couldn't see where it all was going.

I wanted to care more about Katey's attempts to find happiness and a career in the world, but I couldn't. Her various flings didn't hold much interest either. Again, I think I was supposed to be intrigued by her breaking of social taboos in the time period, but it never felt like she was being all that revolutionary. I also couldn't quite understand her relationship with Tinker nor her condemnation of him when she learned the truth of his past. After all, all of them were trying to climb the social ladder in their own way.

Maybe "period" novels just don't work for me. Or maybe reading on trains and planes was too distracting. Whatever the reason, I just couldn't see the point of Rules of Civility.

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