August 16th, 2012

kjpugs Book Review: Rules of Civility

I’ve read some great books lately (Oogy, The Help, BossypantsThe Year of Living Biblically) but the one I just finished was worthy of a lengthy blog post. This was the first book I’ve read in ages- maybe ever- where I could visualize it as a movie. A really GOOD movie. I desperately want this book to be a movie so I can become even more immersed in it. More on that later.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles, is at it’s core a novel about New York City in the late 1930’s. It shows the juxtaposition of the glamour and the struggles of New York in the shadow of the depression. The main character, Katey Kontent, finds her world changed forever when one person, Tinker Grey, arrives in it unexpectedly. The trajectory of her life is forever changed, and her world evolves. The only constants are her sharp wit, strong will, and the city that defines them all.

I loved two things most deeply about Mr. Towles’ novel. First, the imagery. I could smell the gin, hear the jazz, feel the cold of the city. It all felt so real, even nostalgic. And second were the characters. Each character was so well-developed that you felt like you knew them. Katey is self-assured, poised, and the perfect amount of knowing with a touch of naivety. Her friend Eve is, to me, a caricature of women in the 30’s who are trying to still live in the pre-depression era at any cost. Tinker remains a delightful mystery to me, as he does to most that he meets. I can picture the characters vividly; they were lovingly built and crafted as if the author had known them from Adam.

My only criticism was the formatting of dialogue. He starts them with — instead of enclosing them in quotation marks. A little hard for a grammar-lovers, but I got used to it after a chapter or two.

The book echoes questions about the choices we make, and how our lives shape in the blink of an eye, based on both chance and choice. If you’ve read the book, page 323’s passage on this subject was brilliant. I think if when this becomes a movie, it needs to be read verbatim as a narrative at the end. So wonderfully written.

I thought a lot about who would play the main characters in the Rules of Civility movie. Here are my votes!

Katey Kontent…

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My votes for the relatable, self-assured, and slightly-exotic Katey? First choice would be Scarlett Johansson. I think her voice would be perfect, and she could pull off the sweet but sassy dialog with a smile. Second choice would be Jennifer Lawrence. I think she could pull off the mature confidence as well. I also like Emily VanCamp (I loved her on Everwood way back when) but her voice doesn’t sound quite right for Katey.

Tinker Grey…

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Without a doubt I see White Collar‘s Matt Bomer as Tinker. He’s got the right sizzle- that draw that Tinker has- with a touch of vulnerability. And he could easily fit in in the 1930’s. I would have loved to have seen my second choice, Heath Ledger, in this role, but alas, that’s not possible due to his untimely death. I think that Josh Hartnett could play to Tinker’s vulnerabilities, but lacks his smouldering qualities.

Eve Ross…

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No question- this parts needs to be played by a blonde Rachel McAdams. Period. The dimples and sweet face… but with that special Eve mind that others try to understand but fall short. The only person who could come close would be Busy Phillipps. I imagine her voice more than Rachel’s. But Busy isn’t as light or effervescent as I imagine Eve to be.

Anne Grandyn…

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Anne is just as smouldering as Tinker, but in a different way. She’s mature, confident, and I imagine her to have knowing eyes. Elizabeth Hurley could pull it off beautifully. I also think the more-current Christina Hendricks could do well in this role, but she might be too young/sexy/obvious. Anne Grandyn is not obvious.

Dicky Vanderwhile…

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This was the hardest character for me to “cast.” I knew a real-life Dicky from Boston once, and I imagined him in this role. Especially the blonde-ness. But most important would be the Dicky smile. The smile that could get him anything while remaining genuine. I could see this done by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His smile is infectious. James Marsden too, but he’s maybe a little too much “pretty” and less “preppy” than I imagine Dicky to be.

Wallace Wolcott and Hank Grey…

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No question on either of these two gentlemen. Nerd up Jake Gyllenhaal a bit and add a slight speech impediment, you get a great option for lovable Wallace Wolcott. And Jack Black has the acting chops to play complex and angry artist Hank Grey with ease.

I hope my character assignments might have inspired a few of you to pick up this awesome book! If you are into America pre-1940, or if you enjoyed The Great Gatsby, you’d love this book. And if you’re in Orlando, I’ll even let you borrow it!

If you’ve read Rules of Civility, what did you think? Who would be in your dream cast?

19 comments to kjpugs Book Review: Rules of Civility

  • I just loved this book! So glad you liked it too!! I think Jennifer Lawrence would make a great Katy. In my head she was a really young Katherine Hepburn. Tinker was like younger Jude Law (Talented Mr. Ripley-esque). I think James Franco could maybe be Dicky too. Hes got those boyish good looks. Oh and I totally pictured Anne in like her early to mid 50s (and sometimes she was like crazy Bunny from Sex & the City because she was so manipulative), which I am now wondering if I read totally wrong and was even more disturbed by it all.

    • kjpugs

      OMG we are SO on the same page! This is hilarious… I was imagining a young Jude Law too (but didn’t list him because he’s older… but I did list Heath so WTF KJ…) and TOTALLY pictured James Franco too but I find him overly arrogant for Dicky, but I bet he could act it too. I pictured Anne as a in-her-50’s-but-looks-way-awesome… although the older she is the creepier it all is… LOL. So glad you read it I was worried I would be the only one to enjoy this gem!

  • You’re making me want to read this book! I love that you have all the movie characters picked out. :)

  • DUDE, this book sounds just up my alley. Need to get it now! LOVE LOVE historically set novels that are depicted well. I mean, I smelled booze and jass in your review; the book HAS to be good :)

    • kjpugs

      I’m also obsessed with the 20’s/30’s… so glam! And I was in NYC when I started reading this – plus it mentioned FL and IN… so it just felt like the right time to read it. Definitely pick it up!

  • Kelly

    I’ll have to read this one. I just finished A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing. LOVED it!!

  • amor towles

    A friend alerted me to your post. As the 47-year-old author of this book, I must admit that I would not have the slightest idea of how to cast it. Most of the characters are around 25 years old, and I guess I’m not as up-to-date as I should be on 25 year old stars…
    Given that, I must admit that I enjoyed your suggestions immensely. I thought them very shrewd; very sympathetic to the narrative. And having Jack Black as Hank, that’s just too terrific.
    Anyway. Thanks for your kind remarks on the book

  • You sold me…I can’t wait to read this book now! And seriously, the fact that the author just wrote a comment? Freaking awesome, Kelly!!!

  • Sarah

    Just sent it to my Kindle! Sounds like an amazing book and I cannot wait to read it. And how COOL that the author took time to comment on your post!

  • Sue

    Great review Kelly! And very cool that the author stopped by.

  • I’ll have to add this to my ever growing list of books to read, it sounds very interesting.
    P.S. That is SO COOL the author commented!


    Buying this on my kindle tonight :) Thanks for the great suggestion!

  • I’ve just marked this as a ”to read”! I can’t wait.

  • Ok, so I started reading this book because of your review (when you posted a link to it back around New Year’s) and I just finished it! So I had to come back and re-visit your character recommendations (spot on!! Except I like Jennifer Lawrence more than Scarlett Johansen for Katey…I just don’t like Scarlett much) and tell you how much I LOVED this book! Thank you for recommending it – I’m so so so glad that I read it!

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