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Tiffany and Civility


Thought I was reading Breakfast At Tiffany’s for a second here:

One of the great advantages that the midwestern girls had was that you couldn’t tell them apart. You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for. But to the native New Yorker, the midwestern girls all looked and sounded the same. Sure, the girls from the various classes were raised in different houses and went to different schools, but they shared enough midwestern humility that the gradations of their wealth and privilege were obscure to us. Or maybe their differences (readily apparent in Des Moines) were just dwarfed by the scale of our socioeconomic strata—that thousand-layered glacial formation that spans from an ash can on the Bowery to a penthouse in paradise. Either way, to us they all looked like hayseeds: unblemished, wide-eyed, and God-fearing, if not exactly free of sin. (14)

Rules of Civility is a nostalgic tribute to New York in he 1930s. The story unfolds largely in flashback, set on New Year’s Eve in Manhattan 1937. The Jazz Age is over, the Depression in its final days, World War II just over the horizon. At its outset, there is a budding love triangle between Katey Kontent; her boardinghouse roommate, Eve; and a handsome banker, Theodore “Tinker” Grey, but an unexpected accident sends the story in a more serious direction. This book reads more seriously than Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although both are a discourse on wealth and privilege, aspirations and envy, loyalty and reinventing oneself.

I love the snarky and witty narrative voice. Katey is the narrator and the wry heart of this novel. She’s a young woman of “poise and purpose.” Brooklyn-born, the daughter of immigrant laborers, she works in a Wall Street secretarial pool though aspires to much more. With this stormy and rainy weather in San Francisco this weekend, this book is perfectly and aptly accompanied by a generous pour of pinot noir or a cold martini.


4 Responses

  1. I love a good “snarky narrative voice.” Thanks for this! : )

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this book too – best shaken not stirred!

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