Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mila Kunis, Option “Rules of Civility” Now!

Dexter Appears on the Book Jacket
      In Rules of Civility by Amor Towles recreates Manhattan in 1938 as completely and as evanescently as Billie Holiday singing “Summertime” with Count Basie.  There hasn’t been a comedy of manners novel in a while and there is an elegiac
tone to the book, not only because it is set in the past with a different set of rules, but because the narrator is looking back thirty years herself.   I’d read about the book in O, the only general interest magazine that still takes books seriously and entices its readership to read them.  Since I'm not homeless (yet), I try to buy the books of living authors because they need the royalties to avoid homelessness themselves and their publishers need to know that there is a following for them so that they’ll publish more of them.  I know that Oprah and everyone else and her dog believes in the primacy of Kindle, Nook, etc., but while trees can be grown for paper, plastic does not decompose.  Also, in a pinch, a book is a convenient way to keep a homeless person warm for a while.  I’m not being facetious, especially since Rules of Civility moves between the ultra-rich, the middle class, the striving working class, and even touches on the homeless in its narrative.

      I wasn’t sure about the book when I read about it in O because sometimes they’ve burned me in the past with their enthusiasms, but I picked it up in Barnes & Noble one night and couldn’t put it down until I’d read the Preface, which introduces the very successful framing device of a Walker Evans exhibit at MOMA in 1966 as a cue for the narrator to recall her youth.  I wanted to keep reading, but decided to wait, buy the book, and finish it during the holidays.  I did – in three days, which is extremely fast for me.

A Classic Cord at the
Auburn Cord Museum in Auburn, IN
      It’s been compared to Fitzgerald because of its examination of the rich and “how they’re different from you and me” to paraphrase F. Scott.  However, the tone bears a resemblance to Dawn Powell’s New York City centered novels from the ‘30s to the ‘60s because of its sly wit, irony, and laser sharp dialogue.   It seems like it will be a romantic comedy, but it’s actually a bildüngsroman, sort of like a ‘coming of age’ story, but it’s focused on how the narrator-protagonist creates herself, rather than whom she loves or sleeps with.  That character, Katey Kontent, is utterly engaging, intelligent, and reliably patient in her observation of the work and social mores of the various sets of characters surrounding her.  She begins as an ultracompetent secretary, but her career trajectory moves in different directions because of her pluck, diligence, and a couple of mentors looking out for her.  However, the plot revolves around her friendship with her roommate Eve Roos and the relationship they experience with Tinker Grey, a young, glamorous banker, who’s not quite what he appears.  

Mila Kunis
      I can see the movie already and Mila Kunis should buy an option on it now!  Katey’s background is Russian (as is Kunis’s) and she has a quality of smart watchfulness that is the basis for realizing this character on film.  I’ll play casting director and suggest Evan Rachel Wood as Eve, Armie Hammer as Tinker, and either Jessica Lange or Elisabeth Shue as Anne Grandyn, the mysterious benefactor who is something more and different than she initially appears.  However, read the book and those rules of civility that Tinker keeps, but that Katey lives by and are still so utterly necessary today.  George Washington supposedly wrote them and maybe they should be copied and sent to all the members of the U.S. Congress.

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