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Amor Towles’ debut novel is an amazing glimpse into the late ‘30’s lifestyle in New York City. This novel encompasses all of life’s obstacles and triumphs including love, death, despair, independence, success, and failures. Towles knows what he is writing about, especially jazz and literature, and is able to connect people around the two components.
The majority of the book is a story of where one year takes the three main characters, and whom they turn into after the one year. All of the characters hold a residual impact on the world they live in; yet, New York City is the most influential part of the novel. Everything that happens is done by the city in a way that shows the true impact of the melting pot during this era.
Towles’ writing technique allows the reader to truly feel the emotions the characters endure, and finds various ways to still catch the reader off guard. Although there are chapters throughout the book, there are broader sections by season, which really puts into perspective how time passes and the environment the characters are placed in.
A great addition to the text is all the references of greatly talented and iconic people in a way that helps the characters describe or internally overcome their circumstances. Just to name a few, Towles includes Billie Holiday, Henry D. Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christies, Mark Twain, Picasso, and Charles Dickens. The literature impact to the novel creates a deeper interpretation and emphasis to the culture of both the era and New York City both then and now. To tie with the literature component, jazz is also another central element to the novel. Jazz is almost always a way for the characters to connect throughout. Again, Towles strong points are definitely jazz and literature.
The title of the novel plays a very unique role throughout the story line. The Rules of Civility is actually a novel by George Washington who wrote the piece when he was around 16 years old. The 110 rules teach one how to live the proper life, and ultimately gain status in society. The list is very influential throughout the characters of the novel, yet Towles keeps it as underlining component. Rules of Civility is a perfect title and critical theme for the novel.
The novel is a very addictive and enticing story that takes you to a different world, yet allows you to appreciate the impacts of the late ‘30’s in today’s time. So put on your favorite jazz album, and enjoy an evening of great literature that will take you on an adventure that is sure to get you wishing you saw the golden age of New York City first hand.
Image Courtesy of Amor Towles