The story begins on New Year’s Eve 1937. Katey Kontent and her friend Eve Ross meet the wealthy Tinker Grey at a low-rent bar. It’s New York City; status and wealth, accents and manners are important here. Tinker is from old money, working in the bank his grandfather founded.
Eve’s from the Midwest, and her willful independence is established early with quotes like “I’m willing to be under anything, as long as it’s not somebody’s thumb.” Our narrator Katey is a Brooklyn native and gifted with words, although at 25 she’s stuck in a Wall Street secretarial pool. Eve introduces her thusly: “Katey’s the hottest bookworm you’ll ever meet.” Although Katey and Tinker connect immediately, Eve obviously wants him for herself. Everyone’s path is altered by this encounter and the surprising and devastating effects of what comes after it.
Katey is introduced to the upper levels of New York’s society and to the exclusive offices at Conde Nast. But as she’s exposed to the opportunities of wealth and class, the scheming, betrayal and envy are revealed beneath The Rules of Civility as well.
The debut novel from Amor Towles, a Manhattan investment banker, draws comparisons to The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The lyrical language draws you into the story. The narrator speaks from 1969, looking back nostalgically at the events of 1938-39 in NYC. Katie’s voice makes the story memorable. She’s not all-knowing, but she does know what’s coming next for the people and the world she describes.