This was one of the big buzz books, post- BEA. Advance copies, rumored to exist in obscure places, were nowhere to be found and ultimately went the way of the dodo as Viking ran out. Friends were asking if I'd read it, telling me how much they loved it but I couldn't get my mitts on a copy. Another friend, one of the finest booksellers I've ever known, was so impressed, she pre-ordered 10 copies so she could hand them out to people the day it pubbed. I was enthusiastically recommending it to people and had yet to read a word.
Fortunately and for once, I don't look like a complete ass because The Rules of Civility is that good.
At least to begin, all you need to know is that it is New Years Eve, 1937 in a Manhattan jazz club when a couple of regular gals from the secretarial pool, Kate Kontent (accent on the second syllable) and Eve Ross, meet a handsome, well-heeled, cashmere-coated banker, Theodore Grey. But "my friends call me Tinker. Couldn't you have just guessed it? How the WASPs loved to nickname their children after the workaday trades: Tinker. Cooper. Smithy. Maybe it was to hearken back to their seventeenth-century New England bootstraps--the manual trades that had made them stalwart and humble and virtuous in the eyes of their Lord. Or maybe it was just a a way of politely understating their predestination to having it all."
That's from page 19! Kate's description of Eve on page 14 is so perfect, I read it four times and twice aloud to Mrs. Next.
This debut novelist (whose names sounds like Chico Marx making a room service request) will have a high mark to meet in any subsequent work as the prose is exquisite throughout, the use of alliteration artful, the characters believable and endearing. It is a Gatsby-esque tale extremely well-told that will tug at your heart and your conscience and will leave you wanting more. Is it a "classic"? I'll leave that to time and taste. Is it one of the best novels of recent memory? I think so.