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Rules of Civility: A Novel by [Amor Towles]

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Rules of Civility: A Novel Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 13,385 ratings

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From the Publisher

Amor Towles

Editorial Reviews

Review


 
Praise for
Rules of Civility

“An irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working class-women and world-weary WASPs in 1930s New York…in the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave – and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.”
O, the Oprah Magazine

 

 

“With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.” The New York Times Book Review

 

“This very good first novel about striving and surviving in Depression-era Manhattan deserves attention…The great strength of Rules of Civility is in the sharp, sure-handed evocation of Manhattan in the late ‘30s.” Wall Street Journal

 

“Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent…[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.” People

 

“[A] wonderful debut novel…Towles [plays] with some of the great themes of love and class, luck and fated encounters that animated Wharton’s novels.” The Chicago Tribune

 

“Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.” NPR.org

 


 “Glamorous Gotham in one to relish…a book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

It was the last night of 1937.

With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.

From a look around the club, you couldn’t tell that it was New Year’s Eve. There were no hats or streamers; no paper trumpets. At the back of the club, looming over a small empty dance floor, a jazz quartet was playing loved-me-and-left-me standards without a vocalist. The saxophonist, a mournful giant with skin as black as motor oil, had apparently lost his way in the labyrinth of one of his long, lonely solos. While the bass player, a coffee-and-cream mulatto with a small deferential mustache, was being careful not to hurry him. Boom, boom, boom, he went, at half the pace of a heartbeat.

The spare clientele were almost as downbeat as the band. No one was in their finery. There were a few couples here and there, but no romance. Anyone in love or money was around the corner at Café Society dancing to swing. In another twenty years all the world would be sitting in basement clubs like this one, listening to antisocial soloists explore their inner malaise; but on the last night of 1937, if you were watching a quartet it was because you couldn’t afford to see the whole ensemble, or because you had no good reason to ring in the new year.

We found it all very comforting.

We didn’t really understand what we were listening to, but we could tell that it had its advantages. It wasn’t going to raise our hopes or spoil them. It had a semblance of rhythm and a surfeit of sincerity; it was just enough of an excuse to get us out of our room and we treated it accordingly, both of us wearing comfortable flats and a simple black dress. Though under her little number, I noted that Eve was wearing the best of her stolen lingerie.

Eve Ross . . .

Eve was one of those surprising beauties from the American Midwest.

In New York it becomes so easy to assume that the city’s most alluring women have flown in from Paris or Milan. But they’re just a minority. A much larger covey hails from the stalwart states that begin with the letter I—like Iowa and Indiana and Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primitive blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs. Every morning in early spring one of them skips off her porch with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane ready to flag down the first Greyhound headed to Manhattan—this city where all things beautiful are welcomed and measured and, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size.

One of the great advantages that the midwestern girls had was that you couldn’t tell them apart. You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for. But to the native New Yorker, the midwestern girls all looked and sounded the same. Sure, the girls from the various classes were raised in different houses and went to different schools, but they shared enough midwestern humility that the gradations of their wealth and privilege were obscure to us. Or maybe their differences (readily apparent in Des Moines) were just dwarfed by the scale of our socioeconomic strata—that thousand-layered glacial formation that spans from an ashcan on the Bowery to a penthouse in paradise. Either way, to us they all looked like hayseeds: unblemished, wide-eyed, and God-fearing, if not exactly free of sin.

Hailing from somewhere at the upper end of Indiana’s economic scale, Eve was indisputably a natural blonde. Her shoulder-length hair, which was sandy in summer, turned golden in the fall as if in sympathy with the wheat fields back home. She had fine features and blue eyes and pinpoint dimples so perfectly defined that it seemed like there must be a small steel cable fastened to the center of each inner cheek which grew taut when she smiled. True, she was only five foot six, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels—and she knew how to kick them off as soon as she sat in your lap.

That New Year’s, we started the evening with a plan of stretching three dollars as far as it would go. We weren’t going to bother ourselves with boys. More than a few had had their chance with us in 1937, and we had no intention of squandering the last hours of the year on latecomers. We were going to perch in this low-rent bar where the music was taken seriously enough that two good-looking girls wouldn’t be bothered and where the gin was cheap enough that we could each have one martini an hour. We intended to smoke a little more than polite society allowed. And once midnight had passed without ceremony, we were going to a Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue where the late-night special was coffee, eggs, and toast for fifteen cents.

But a little after nine-thirty, we drank eleven o’clock’s gin. And at ten, we drank the eggs and toast. We had four nickels between us and we hadn’t had a bite to eat. It was time to start improvising.

Eve was busy making eyes at the bass player. It was a hobby of hers. She liked to bat her lashes at the musicians while they performed and ask them for cigarettes in between sets. This bass player was certainly attractive in an unusual way, as most Creoles are, but he was so enraptured by his own music that he was making eyes at the tin ceiling. It was going to take an act of God for Eve to get his attention. I tried to get her to make eyes at the bartender, but she wasn’t in a mood to reason. She just lit a cigarette and threw the match over her left shoulder for good luck. Pretty soon, I thought to myself, we were going to have to find ourselves a Good Samaritan or we’d be staring at the tin ceiling too.

And that’s when he came into the club.

Eve saw him first. She was looking back from the stage to make some remark and she spied him over my shoulder. She gave me a kick in the shin and nodded in his direction. I shifted my chair.

He was terrific looking. An upright five foot ten, dressed in black tie with a coat draped over his arm, he had brown hair and royal blue eyes and a small star-shaped blush at the center of each cheek. You could just picture his forebear at the helm of a schooner—his gaze trained brightly on the horizon and his hair a little curly from the salt sea air.

—Dibs, said Eve.
--This text refers to the paperback edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004IYJDVG
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Books; 1st edition (July 26, 2011)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 26, 2011
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 4287 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 348 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 13,385 ratings

About the author

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Amor Towles is the author of New York Times bestsellers RULES OF CIVILITY and A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. The two novels have collectively sold more than four million copies and have been translated into more than thirty languages. His new novel, THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, will be released on October 5, 2021. His short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, and Vogue. Having worked as an investment professional for more than twenty years, Towles now devotes himself fulltime to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
13,385 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Moment When All Is Possible
Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2018
Do you recall a time, however brief, when some people, some places and you seem to converge with a sense that something special was happening that could go on and on? And yet, you were so caught up in the effortless unfolding of events that you were unaware of the magic until it was gone.

Amor Towles’ 2011 novel, “Rules of Civility”, is his homage to 1938 Manhattan, its environs and a few youthful inhabitants. It blends sly humor with engaging discovery about each other and themselves. And leaves at least one mystery unsolved.

The story is related through the eyes of a young, scrambling woman in her twenties from Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach starting her career in a Manhattan law firm secretarial pool and living with similar women in Mrs. Martingale’s boardinghouse. It is New Year’s Eve 1937 as Katey Kontent and her roommate, Eve Ross, meet a handsome, affluent-looking, not-for-long stranger at a Greenwich Village jazz club.

They quickly exchange names and his is Theodore Grey, though “My friends call me Tinker.” And Tinker it is for the rest of the tale.

Towles presents a wonderful sense of Manhattan as a feast for excitement and adventure from the Village to Midtown, including the original watering hole of the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Room with the fabled Maxfield Parish mural, to uptown apartment suites overlooking Central Park West. And it seems like the Great Gatsby has met the Gold Diggers of 1938.

Events move quickly and the circle of friends and acquaintances swells to include other denizens of Gotham and the tippling affluent described with Art Deco wit: “Slurring is the cursive of speech, I said. Eckshactly, he said.”

And one of my favorite tell-all exchanges captures the initial sense of the story: “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, I said… Kay-Kay, those are my six favorite words in the English language.”

Through the four seasons of 1938 Katey expands her horizons and moves from the world of law to the intense, demanding realm of society magazine publishing for which she seems better suited. And her friends shift their courses, including Tinker for whom Katey will always have a sense of tristesse but no regrets.

The opening ploy is a brilliant use of pictures at a 1966 exhibition Katey and her husband are attending. It is here she sees two black-and-white photographs of Tinker taken at different times with a hidden camera. And the door opens to her memories, which we come to share.

“The Rules of Civility” is sunlight on moving water, glistening at first, then, the sun moves on and we are left to savor a fading glimmer.
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JJ
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching tale that is beautifully written
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 13, 2017
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Pablo
1.0 out of 5 stars right when he said that "everyone has one good novel in them
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 24, 2018
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Tony Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful surprise
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 11, 2019
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AC
3.0 out of 5 stars Just OK - nothing like as good as AGIM
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 10, 2019
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Graham Eason
2.0 out of 5 stars Aims for target. Misses.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 1, 2018
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