The setting is the alluring social scene of New York City in 1938. Katey Kontent (“like the state of mind’), our heroine, is the daughter of a Russian immigrant. Smart, witty and fearless, we first find Katey working at a Wall Street secretarial pool and living in a boardinghouse with her roommate Eve. Katey and Eve pinch pennies all week so that they can go out on the town on the weekends. Until New Year’s Eve when Eve’s social-climbing eye manages to land them in the path of Tinker Grey, a handsome New York up-and-comer banker. Soon Tinker takes them under his wing and introduces them to the world of New York’s wealthy. Thus the story unfolds. These are three very complex characters, each with their own story to tell. Eve has tunnel vision as far as her social status and the power it can bring. Tinker, of course, is not the person he appears to be. But Katey is a shining star. Looking to improve her job status, she uses her brains and guts to move up from the secretarial pool to the upper echelon of Conde Naste magazine. She manages to sidestep every bump in the road, and there were quite a few, with grace and a strong sense of self. We see her grow through her experiences and applaud her successes.
Rules of Civility is a very sophisticated, classy book, reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald in its smart dialogue and strong sense of the setting and time period. With a dry martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, the terrific characters stroll through the book with an edgy reality that only New York City can provide. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes reckless, sometimes heartbreaking, this first novel by Amor Towles is a must read.