Book Corner 2022.6

by Amor Towles

Between book club and books people give me as gifts, I’ve read three novels by Amor Towles now, and I don’t even like him. It reminds me of how I’ve seen Elvis Costello at least as many times without particularly liking him either.

At least there were no bratty precocious kids in this one! I even surprised myself by enjoying the first half. I liked the jaunty tone, and I liked following the adventures of the crazy 20-something girls from the boarding house who managed to get so many men to buy them drinks.

But after the first half or so, the story got wacky, and I stopped understanding anyone’s motivation. Also, I feel Amor Towles really does not do Period well; the alleged time period of the story always feels slightly off, though I can usually not put my finger on why. This time I DID catch him in an anachronism – page 227, “he and his brother had hiked the Appalachian Trail for days at a time” in Maine when the character was a boy. The current year is 1938. The Appalachian Trail wasn’t completed until 1937. He couldn’t have hiked it as a boy; not even a proto-trail, as the trail was begun in New York, not Maine. I knew it didn’t feel right.

And Towles’ books are too long, with too many digressions. It’s particularly painful as you’re approaching the end, and realize that yet another long segue is being put in because he felt it was a charming little thing he had to include somewhere, and it doesn’t advance the plot one whit. I’m thinking here of the paper airplane interlude.

It’s such a shame, because Towles really can write well, and has some great ideas; he just doesn’t really know how to write a succinct story without annoyances. It was towards the end that I came across a great quote. I was trying to convey this very thought just recently, but not at all well; here it is:

“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions – we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.”

A fabulous description of being in one’s twenties.

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