Years ago, I was in my room listening to Tom Petty. “American Girl” was playing, and I was enjoying the tune. When I got up to go into another room, I heard my roommate listening to The Strokes, “Last Night.” It was a total coincidence that these two songs played one right after the other. However, one thing was pretty obvious: despite a 15 year gap in recording, the opening riffs were nearly identical. (article that highlights this)
A similar experience happened when I read Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. The decision to read this book, at this time, was completely random. I had just finished reading City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was looking for another fiction option and saw this one on my Kindle. I had bought it over a year ago but had never read it. I didn’t know what it was about. I had only bought it because a book club I was in was reading A Gentleman in Moscow. I wanted to read this one first.
I had just finished City of Girls a few days before beginning Rules of Civility. As I wove my way through the first several chapters, I felt as though I was listening to Tom Petty after the Strokes. The two books were very similar. They were similar in the time period they were set in. They were similar in that they had a New York City backdrop. Their female protagonists almost felt like the same person to me in how they spoke, thought, and handled themselves. The lead characters’ best friends could have been the same person in each book. At one point, while I was looking for something to truly separate the novels, I thought, “Well, Towles’ book doesn’t have a lesbian scene.” Then it had a lesbian scene.
To be honest, I don’t believe City of Girls was written with the intent to have any similarity to Rules of Civility. Either (1) it’s difficult to write a book about post-depression New York City without lots of similarities, (2) they relied on similar resources when they researched that time period in New York City, (3) it was a complete coincidence, or (4) she channeled the book from the same place Towels did. The only reason I include that last part is because in her book, “Big Magic,” she writes about having an idea for a book that was later published by someone else, State of Wonder, which I will likely read next.
I will say that it was also interesting to read two depression-era books during a present-time period that is being called the new depression. The interesting thing about both is that despite the word “depression,” suggesting a very unhappy time, both eras appear to survive. Of course the benefit of the 1930s depression is that the bars were still open.
I did find Rules of Civility to be an excellent book. I also found City of Girls to be exceptional. For Rules of Civility, the most interesting part to me was that it had a feminine, first-person narrative written by a man. Often, the protagonist came across as a masculine woman. She was very logical, structured, and barely emotional. The protagonist in City of Girls began the story as a fairly feminine character, but she became more masculine as she matured. Her masculine narrative went as far as to discuss her preference for pants over dresses.