I had heard a lot about Rules of Civility in the book blogging world, and it was also continuously checked out from my library for about a year after it came out, so I had high expectations for it. However, somehow I was expecting something rather different from what it was. So in the end, while I mildly enjoyed reading it, I am not sure that I particularly liked it.
It follows a year in the life of 20-something Katey Kontent in 1938 New York City. She is a working-class girl who gets in with some upper crust crowds. The story of this year is framed by a prologue and epilogue that take place in the 1960s, when Katey goes to an art exhibit with her husband of photos of individuals on the subway in the 1930s, and sees two of someone she knew that year. I think that I liked this framing best of all in the book – it was well done and helped give a certain atmospheric sense of reminiscence to the book.
The story of the year of 1938 itself I found quite uncompelling. Even though it is told in the first person from Katey’s point of view, the narrative seemed detached. I felt that I never really got a sense of who Katey really was, or what her intimate dreams and goals were. She just seemed to get swept along in the current of the people she spent time with, spending all her time staying out late, drinking, and going to parties. There were even a couple scenes of big parties out at a mansion on Long Island, which brought to mind The Great Gatsby. I never particularly liked or understood The Great Gatsby either so maybe it is no surprise that this story did not do much for me and I could not relate to it at all. The lifestyle described in this book remained too distant from anything I am familiar with; I think that a better book would manage to convince me of the lifestyle – perhaps by showing more of the inner lives of the characters, rather than the only a detached view of their outer lives. I actually found myself mildly bored at times in the narrative, because I really didn’t care what happened to the characters.
So I cannot say that I particularly recommend this book. Partly it is perhaps due to my taste, but partly I think that there really are some flaws in the tone and writing that make it a less-than-compelling narrative.