Rules of Civility: A Novel - Amor Towles “I think we all have some parcel of the past which is falling into disrepair or being sold off piece by piece. It’s just that for most of us, it isn’t an orchard; its the way we’ve thought about something, or someone.”

Reviewers have called Rules of Civility a love letter to New York City, but I feel that it isn't. It is, but it isn't. It's a brilliant, brutal, and spectacular backdrop but it never overshadows the characters themselves. It's been compared to both The Great Gatsby and Memoirs of A Geisha, and there are similarities, but Civility stands alone. I inhaled this book. I hated to put it down for anything.

On the eve of 1938, Katey Kontent and her friend Eve meet Theodore “Tinker” Grey, and the two of them begin to vie for his affections. Before the spring, Tinker and Eve are pushed together in a way that effectively takes Katey out of the running. Eve and Tinker are set on a path ever upward mobility. They cultivate friendships with the old money families of New York, vacation in Florida, London, the south of France. They’re in the society pages, and are the subject of much gossip among the upper crust of New York’s elite.

All the while, Kate moves about the outreaches of high society, on the edge, but not quite a part of it. It was much the way she existed in the book. I felt hardly anything for Katey/Katya/Katherine/Kate Kontent. She was a bland space in the story without any real personality. The only times I really liked her were when she stopped behaving so civilly (when she seduced Dickey in a bathtub, yelled at Tinker in a diner, and had that last olive-filled drink with Anne).

What really moved me were the ways that the characters’ regrets and missed chances colored their choices in life. Katey’s in her fifties when she next sees Tinker Grey, the first time since 1938. He’s in two very different photographs at MoMA. She used to think of him every day, and hope to find him around every corner in New York City, until after several years without seeing him even once, she forgets. Until she sees his face again, and she relives her melancholy story, delving into youth and regret for us, her audience. “Old times,” as Katey’s father used to say, “If you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.”