RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles

This is by the same author who wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which I LOVED, and which you can read about here.

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Back in the days when a single gal working in a typing pool in Manhattan, can actually afford to live  with only ONE roommate.  hahahaha

The prologue to this novel takes place at an exhibition of photographs by Walker Evans in 1966. The author tells us that Evans had waited 25 years to show these photos to the public due to a concern for the subjects’ privacy. The photos are taken with a hidden camera in the NYC subway car and “captured a certain naked humanity.” Katey sees an old friend, Tinker Grey, in two of these pictures. In one he’s clean shaven, wearing a custom shirt and a cashmere coat. In a photo dated one year later he looks underweight and dirty in a threadbare coat.

The story starts 25 years earlier, when native New Yorker Katey and her midwest, true blonde roommate meet a cutie in a jazz bar.  The three pal around, he wealthy and decent, they, chronically broke and ready for anything, and one night, as the three are out in bad weather in his little sports car, they are hit from behind.  Katey and Tinker are unhurt, but the girlfriend is thrown through the windshield, badly hurt, with terrible damage to her face and leg, which will be lame for the rest of her life.  Tinker takes her in after she leaves the hospital to recover in his sumptuous apartment, and eventually become an ‘item’.    But the girl is not impressed, feeling that he is compensating for the accident.  “You break it, you buy it.”  she tells Katey.

Meanwhile, Katey seems to be getting around with the jet set friends of Tinker, and the book is essentially about the two girls, and the trajectory of their lives.

You can look up Walker Evans.  He was a real person,  a photographer and photojournalist best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression.   His Subway Portraits was a real thing, too.

 

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