Last week I finished Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It came highly recommended on several book blogs. I can see why: the writing was very clever, the characters started out as intriguing, and the setting of New York City in the late 1930s was dazzling. However, what started as refreshingly different ended as testament to meaninglessness.
The main character, Katey Kontent (pun intended), has grown up in Brooklyn. Through a series of career movies and friendships, she works her way into the center of New York’s elite socialites. The book also follows, Tinker Grey, the city’s most eligible bachelor, who also happens to be pretty down to earth and likable. Or so it seems.
For the first half of the book, I was thinking, “man, this books is pretty great.” For the second half I was thinking, “this book is pointless.” At the crucial point where the main character should be reaching some clarity, she makes choices that just make things foggier. I think the reader is supposed to draw meaning from Tinker’s choices, but they, too don’t seem to lead to much meaning.
Final verdict: while I enjoyed the writing style at first, the characters and the messages were without roots. Their evolution was not into something better than what they were at the beginning. They seemed soulless. Yes, I know that technically they were; they were fictional characters. But fiction at its best should be a presentation of characters real enough to understand and learn from. Maybe it was personal differences that kept me from understanding the characters in Rules. Whatever the reason, I can’t recommend this book very highly, but I know I’m in the minority of readers.
After finishing Rules of Civility, I moved on to 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Friends, I love this book. Reading it on the heels of a Rules of Civility, a book that presents a lot of questions about the typical American Dream, drives home some of the points even more. Expect a detailed post on 7 to appear soon. Though it’s non-fiction and I’m a self-proclaimed slow non-fiction reader, I read half of it in one day.