Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 2013 Bookers Minutes - The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

     Rule 110: “Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.”    
   14 year-old George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.
23 Bookers were greeted by a reenactment of the cover of our book, Rules of Civility featuring Cherry Fugitt savoring the lifestyle of 1938 and waiting for Prince Charming to return to the table to finish his single-malt scotch. What do you imagine is the subject of her skylarking? She looks pretty “kontent.”
Many thanks to those who participated in setting the scene with props from all over Saint Andrews Drive…not to mention the ciggies donated by Jean McSpadden and David Farhat!
Lois Welch walked us through this debut novel by Amor Towles hitting all the key points and significant turn of events taking us back to the post-Jazz Age years…1938 in New York City. As one reviewer said this novel is “a love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression.”
Self-described ‘expert flirts,’ Katey Kontent, from Brooklyn, and Midwestern beauty, Eve Ross, met a not-so-forthright debonair young banker, Theodore (Tinker) Grey, in a jazz club in Greenwich Village on New Year’s Eve, 1937. The threesome became inseparable hitting all the hot nightspots with each one jockeying for the favor of the other. Their chance encounter, with all the characteristics of being in the right place at the right time, ended when their lives and the automobile in which they were riding turned upside down after colliding with a milk truck. Tinker at the wheel hurled into a guilt-ridden journey with Eve manacled by her injuries. Now a ‘couple’ – one searched for exoneration, the other, – beholden to his humanity, but both victims in this tragedy. The apple cart flipped for Katey also. She was the ‘odd-man-out’ torn between loyalty to her best friend, and strong feelings for Tinker necessitating her to move forward with her life. She climbed out of a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future. On her trip, she witnesses the realities of how wealth and station alters perceptions rewarding those based on whose arm you are on rather than who you really are. Weaving in and out of opulence provided a necessary diversion to let go of what should have been and explore what could be. In the end, she learns how “individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.”
Amor Towles commented he deliberately used “photography and the imagery of fairy tales as motifs in the book,” but only after completion did he realize he had created some unintentional ones. Navigation – through references to the Odyssey, Titanic, Robinson Crusoe and Thoreau’s quote “find your pole star and follow it unwaveringly as would a sailor or a fugitive slave,” and – the blessed and the damned expressed through references to churches, paradise, the inferno, doomsday, redemption day, the pietà and the language of the Gospels. He quipped, “If you see me in an airport, can you please explain to me what role these images played in the book.”
Another interesting element in this novel was the meaning behind the chapter titles – in essence, he told us what was going to happen in the chapter. For example in The Quick Brown Fox (jumps over the lazy dog) we learn of Katey’s job in the secretarial pool at Quiggin & Hale…this is an English language pangram which is a phrase that contains all the letters of the alphabet used to test typewriters and computer keyboards. Deus Ex Machina is a plot device used when the author seemingly has painted himself into a corner but abruptly resolves the problem and brings a happy ending to the tale…when Eve admitted to being jealous of Katey and Tinker. Twenty Pounds Ought and Six is a quote from David Copperfield, which means if your expenses are more than you earn, misery is sure to follow. Honeymoon Bridge is analogy to Wallace and Katey’s relationship – a modified version of the real game where two friends can pass the time waiting for their “train to arrive.” Just to mention a few.
Mr. Towles skilfully “turned a Jamesian eye” creating a realistic story through his character portrayals. Lois adeptly detailed this view by highlighting the everyday lives of Katey, Eve, and Tinker and the decisions they made.  BRAVO LOIS…WELL DONE!
The majority liked the book and our discussion began with the author’s use of the ‘em dash’ instead of quotation marks for dialogue, keeping the “conversations” short and crisp. The preface of the book was the introduction of Katey’s past and present setting the tone for the coming events of her life. We marvelled at how proficiently the author captured the female point of view. Someone added this book was reminiscent of a 1930’s version of Sex in the City. The relationship between Tinker and his “godmother,” Anne Grandyn, served as a characterization of how individuals use each other for different reasons, resulting in an unsatisfactory ending for both parties. Tinker’s gold initialled lighter with the dates 1910- ?  a reminder from his brother to seize the day and Thoreau’s Walden brought to light the necessity of adhering to a simpler life. Tinker realized he was living by other people’s standards and the only way to find his personal happiness was to stay true to himself and leave the rest behind…ironically be more like his brother Hank who successfully beat to his own drummer. Saying Katey’s name every morning served as a reminder to Tinker of her “poise and purpose” and gave him a sense of direction – “some unerring course over seas tempest-tost.” The epilogue entitled Few Are Chosen refers back to the opening quote, Matthew 22:8-14, known as the uninvited guest sermon, which is a parable of self-examination told by Jesus as well as a look forward to the plight of the book’s characters.
I’ve read The End of Your Life Book Club and agree it is wonderful, moving, sad, and insightful about a woman and her heartwarming bond with her son. To me it’s more about living than dying as it details her incredible contribution to our world. She says the “greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention.” Jean Alexander suggested we have an in-depth chat about this quote and we will. She also says, “when you can’t decide which path to take, don’t take the one less traveled, but the one with an exit ramp.”
MN has read, and I’m reading, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey set in Alaskan wilderness…we will keep you posted – could be a keeper!
Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, has a new novel coming in May – As The Mountains Echoed – “about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else” following characters from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos.
                                    WHITE:                      LIGHT READ
                                    PINK:                         MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                                    RED:                           CHALLENGING

April 9th:                      Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson, first in the Promises to Keep trilogy
Home of Charlotte Pechacek
Reviewer: Melba Holt

May 7th:                       6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting            
                                    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, Jamie Ford
                                    Home of Melanie Prebis
                                    Reviewer: Pat Faherty
Pat has the audio of this selection if anyone would like to listen to the book.
Summer Break            June, July, & August
Mud & Gold and Settling the Account, #’s two and three in the trilogy, Promises to Keep by Shayne Parkinson. A Second Chance is the sequel to these and her latest Daisy’s War revisits some of the characters of her previous novels…all of the above if you want to spend a summer with Shayne. All available through Amazon. E-books from free to $2.99  
A piece of advice from Katey’s father: “When you lose the ability to take pleasure in the mundane, you put yourself in unnecessary danger. This risk should not be treated lightly. One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.”
Happy Reading,

1 comment:

  1. I hope you don't mind my dropping in to comment! I'm delighted to see Sentence of Marriage on your schedule for this month, and hope you enjoy discussing it.