Rated Reads

Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles

Rated: High

The thing that first drew me to this book (aside from the catchy cover), was that someone described it to me as “Gatsby-esque.” Adoring all things Gatsby, I figured that I would (eventually) need/want to read this one. So, when it came through at the library, I snatched it, hoping to be thoroughly engrossed by it.

And I was. Sort of.

The setting is New York City, 1938. Our main character, Kate Kontent (the emphasis is on the second syllable), is a working girl from Brighton, trying to make ends meet. She rooms at a boarding house and there makes friends with Eve Ross, who has slightly higher ambitions. They’re out for a night on the town when they meet — purely by chance — Tinker Grey: young, handsome, rich, suave. They both pounce, grasping both at the idea of romance and at the chance to get out of the dead-end they’re in.

From there, Kate’s life takes off. As we follow her through 1938 and into 1939, we realize that the chance meeting with Tinker has changed the course of Kate’s life. It’s a whirlwind of a year: one in which, either directly or indirectly because of Tinker, she gets a new (and better) job, dates a couple of rich socialites (while all the while pining, deep down, for Tinker), and watches as Eve manages to nab Tinker and swing into his (rich, sophisticated) lifestyle with ease. It’s a remarkable year, if only for the changes and revelations it brings in Kate’s life.

It’s Gatsby-esque for the time period (roughly) and the love of jazz (again, roughly), but it’s missing all the other things — regret and fate as well as Gatsby’s elusiveness — that makes The Great Gatsby great. But, even though the characters are rich and reckless, with both their lives and their money, there lacks a certain gravitas about Rules that would help give it a center. Perhaps it’s because Kate is really the least interesting person in the book: Tinker, Eve, and eventually her friends Wallace and Bitsy are all far more elegant and interesting. Once in a while Kate is interesting — like her love of books, and their organization system — but it wasn’t enough for me to truly care about the ups and downs of her year. And the end, through the final twist and revelations, fell flat as well. Perhaps it was because by that point, I was really quite past caring.

I make it sound worse than it was; there was enough to keep me going, since I actually did finish the book. But it was not enough to make me love it.

Rated: High for about eight f-bombs, all of which were quite unnecessary.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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  • Rules of Civility
  • by Amor Towles
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: