Katey Kontent is in her 20’s, living in the 1930’s of bustling New York City. Sharing a flat with her good friend Eve, they meet a charming ingenue named Tinker Grey at a jazz bar one evening. From the moment that this trio meet, it’s a whirlwind friendship full of complicated feelings. Working in a law firm’s secretarial pool, Katey has dreams to become more and her ambitions and growing network open up a world of possibilities. As she climbs the social (and career) ladder, Katey gets a taste of how things can be if you’re successful, and how some things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface.
The story begins many years down the road, as Katey is wandering an art gallery and spots her old friend Tinker in one of the art pieces. Thus begins a trip down memory lane, which was quite an adventurous journey. I had heard great things about this book, and with it being set in New York City with a female main character coming up in her own light, it definitely caught my interest.
Unfortunately, it was a bit difficult for me to stay focused on. There was a lot of dialogue, and with the way conversations were formatted in the book (using dashes rather than quotation marks) I felt it a bit confusing to follow. At times, it took me a moment to realize it was still the same person that was talking, or it had switched to the narrative in the same line and actually no longer what was being said out loud. Not necessarily difficult to figure out, but it did make for a more disjointed read, not flowing as easily.
I did feel that the three main characters, plus a few of the supporting cast, to be very strongly developed. There was often times that I really did wonder why Katey would be friends with someone as seemingly aloof and flaky as Eve. Whether that was the author’s choice or a statement on the personality of Katey, I’m not sure. With a myriad of characters though, I felt it a bit confusing as to who was who, since some important characters were introduced so fleetingly and some that seemed to have a significant moment with Katey are then never to be mentioned again. There was one plot point in the last quarter of the book that I thought was headed towards a “The Help” moment, and there was some promise to that but was then dropped from the story. I wish that scene had happened earlier in the book, to allow for more development on it but perhaps the vision for this book was more about the web of characters, and Katey’s career was just a subplot.
Setting that aside however, I did enjoy the time and place that Rules of Civility was set in. The 1930’s were a very distinctive period in time and seeing that through the eyes of a woman growing up in one of the busiest cities was quite interesting. The premise of the book is definitely what sticks with me more than the individual characters’ lives.