Why do we like The Great Gatsby? Fabulous lifestyles are alluring and enviable; when the fabulous people fall from grace, we dig the drama and feel better about our position in society. The whole spectacle is a performance that entertains us either way. Amor Towles’ bestselling novel, Rules of Civility* has the Gatsby-flash with a less theatrical comedown.
The main character, Katy Kontent, happens upon a young NYC socialite and proceeds to gallivant with the greats yet maintain her humble beginnings. She’s a likeable protagonist, unlike her best friend, Eve, who is hella flaky and steals the spotlight a little too much.
The novel is fast-paced, as expected for a book set in New York City in the 1930s. It has a bit of a hard-boiled detective novel feel, where everyone gets blasted on fancy cocktails and no one loses their acuity. I was going to say "gets blasted on old-fashioneds" but the plural of that really throws me off. Anyway, women get drunk and then say charming things like, “Slurring is the cursive of speech” when they start to slur their words (Towles, 92).
Overall, Rules of Civility is a “delight”, in the sense that it is a pleasurable, easy read, albeit not a realistic plot. It tells readers that New York City can spin you into a whirlwind of whimsical majesty, which – call me cynical—is sometimes true but mostly not. Similar to detective novels I've reviewed in the past (The Long Goodbye), I like the quick-witted dialogue and I relish in a character’s journey that’s too good to be true, like only fiction is capable of inciting. Rules of Civility receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.
*Towles, Amor. Rules of Civility. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. Print.