Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
In the 1960s a woman is browsing a gallery with her husband. The photographs on the walls are from the late 1930s. An artist used a hidden camera to photograph people on the subway. He hadn’t shown the images until now because he didn’t want to invade the privacy of these unsuspecting passengers. The woman is startled to recognize her old friend Tinker in one of the photos. In it he is well dressed and looks weary. As she is leaving the gallery she spies another photo of Tinker. Now he is shabbily dressed, on the thin side, but has a slight smile. Her husband comments that it’s nice to see how he went from rags to riches. The wife corrects him. The well dressed photo was taken in 1938; the shabbily dressed one was taken in 1939. This is the story of the year in a life of four friends and the events which shaped their futures.
The city, the economy, the time are as much characters as the four friends. This is a well-crafted relationship story that shows people are many layered and not always only as they seem. It’s also a study in the meaning of happiness and success and how conventional definitions don’t fit everyone.