In the first few pages of "Rules of Civility," Amor Towles' wonderful debut novel, it's
, with 1938 a few hours away. Snow powders
Square's trees, gates and brownstones as the curtain is drawn back and "the ghost of Edith Wharton looked out with shy envy," writes Towles.
With this bit of a wink, Towles conveys that he will be playing with some of the great themes of love and class, luck and fated encounters that animated Wharton novels such as "The House of Mirth" and "The Age of Innocence." Towles' central figure, Katey Kontent (a great name) — born Katya to Russian immigrant parents in Brooklyn — travels in and out of America's world of privilege with wit and an eye for irony.
Katey's guide through society is Tinker Grey, a more interesting and complex character than his cashmere coat and monogrammed lighters and cases might suggest. Grey's primer on social advancement is no less than that of Founding Father George Washington, whose "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" becomes his do-it-yourself charm school. The novel's appendix includes the 110 rules, a guide that Edith Wharton would never need consult.
'Rules of Civility'
By Amor Towles