Have you ever wondered, if not for that one time you were in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time, or in the right spot at exactly the wrong time, how your life would have played out differently? For Katey Kontent, just such an incident occurred on New Years Eve of 1937, where a chance meeting with a young banker in a jazz bar drastically changed the course of the next year, and really, the rest of her life.
Rules of Civility starts out in 1966 at an art exhibit featuring photos taken by hidden camera in the New York subway in the late 1930s (a real exhibit whose photos were published in Walker Evan's Many are Called) where Katey chances upon two photos of the same young man, which bring back waves of memories from her youth. With just that small glimpse of her future life, we plunge back to New Years Eve, 1937, the night that she first met the man from the photos, Tinker Grey.
After this first meeting, Tinker, Katey, and her roommate Eve become fast friends and hurdle head first into 1938 together. Tinker is a wealthy young banker from a very different world than Brooklyn-born secretary Katey and Midwest-transplant Eve, but their friendship is fueled in part by their ability to introduce each other to different social worlds, and to new and exciting sides of New York City itself.
Through this chance meeting, we follow Katey on a winding path through 1938 that leads to a different social set, a new apartment and job, and a new perspective about the world and people around her. Even as their friendship is strained, Tinker continues to play a dominant role in Katey's life, representing most clearly how a person's circumstances - their names, their income, where they grew up - do not always have to define them, and are not the only test of happiness and achievement.
The novel transports you back to a 1930s New York just beginning to suffer the melancholy of the Great Depression. On top of a clear determination and work ethic is, especially for working class Katey, an unmistakable sense of renewed possibility and opportunity that subtly gives the novel a hopeful and revitalizing tone.
Submitted by Megan @ King