WARNING: This book review contains spoilers. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know details about the plot and ending of the novel.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles draws you in from the start with hints about love gone wrong and society misfits. I was intrigued by the setting (1930s New York City), and found myself easily sucked into the plot. Katey is the narrator, Evey is her wild BFF, and Tinker is the man they both love (or do they?). Evey and Katey are working as typists at various NYC firms, and they share a room at a women’s boardinghouse. Katey is an orphan of Ukrainian descent, and Evey is a blonde, all-American beauty from a well-to-do Midwestern family. A lot of bluster is made about Evey wanting to make it on her own and rejected her father’s money.
Katey and Evey are celebrating New Year’s Eve in a seedy jazz club where they meet Tinker Gray. There is a spark between Tinker and Katey that is quickly overshadowed by Evey’s large personality (and ample bosom, I would guess). She quickly calls dibs on him. Their New Year’s Eve is silly, but probably a bit wild for the era – lots of champagne, a snowball fight, fraternity boys, and a man in a diaper.
The threesome gets together again at another seedy jazz club (this time Russian) with further hints at unspoken attraction between Katey and Tinker. But on the group’s third outing there is a life-changing car accident. Tinker is driving (drunk) and Evey is seriously injured. Her legs are broken and her face is badly scarred. Tinker is filled with guilt and won’t leave her side at the hospital, and he even brings her to his apartment after her discharge, becoming her caregiver (and eventually her lover). All the while, Katey appears to be moving on with her life – a new job, a new apartment, even a boyfriend – but she is obviously in love with Tinker.
The relationship with Evey and Tinker is odd and definitely not based on love. She’s using him for his money and status. They travel to Europe and Miami…eventually he proposes and she turns him down. Evey disappears to California, and we’re left to finally see what will happen with Tinker and Katey.
There were hints from the beginning that all was not as it seemed with Tinker. He and Katey get together, and she’s sure that she loves him until she discovers his terrible secret. He’s a gigolo in a long-term relationship with a woman who Katey admired and even sought advice from. Needless to say, Katey’s world is shattered. She tries to go back to the life she’d created, but she breaks down and seeks out Tinker. She finds him living in squalor in a barely inhabitable apartment. After a night of passion (hardly believable, given the circumstances and surroundings), he disappears and she’s pretty much like “well. whatever.” Her meh attitude sorta made me wonder what all the point was. She gave up a relationship with a man who adored her to get together with the spineless Tinker only to have almost zero feelings about him completely disappearing on her. This is where I started to not like Katey. I’d been on her side through the whole novel, but I couldn’t understand any of her choices. She was a smart character but so passive about her own life.
I thought her BFF Evey was a terrible friend – selfish, distant, and unreliable. I don’t understand Katey”s constantly forgiving attitude towards her and her acceptance of behavior that is completely unacceptable. Evey just seems to skate by on her looks and icy demeanor.
As for Tinker…ugh, not a man I’d chase all over Manhattan. He’s weak, simpering, and not likeable – even before we discover that everything we know about him is a charade.
This book sucked me in, and I read it very quickly, but it left me dissatisfied. Katey’s choices frustrated me and the other main characters were completely unrelatable and unlikeable.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Dark and Twisty Meter: Non-existent
Page Turner Rating: Medium-High
March’s book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks., It’s non-fiction, which will be a nice break.