Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is one of the Macmillan books that yes, I did read for work, but I actually already had it on my To Read list before I started working here, and I was thrilled when the paperback was coming out and I had an excuse to read it.

Lillian isn't quite the curmudgeon of Ove, but she is an elderly woman whose family is mostly gone, evaluating her life, and it certainly does appeal to the same market. But the tone is quite different, without the extreme highs and lows of that book. Instead, on New Year's Eve 1984, she walks around New York City, her longtime home, and reflects back on her life. Through extended flashbacks we get to experience her life, mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, when she was the highest paid woman working in advertising (for Macy's, not for a advertising firm), in a pre-Peggy world, and then when she meets and marries her husband and her family life, which never quite lived up to its billing. She had to quit her job when she got married, that was the rule then, and family life never lives up to the creativity, the excitement, and the fulfillment she'd found at Macy's. You can tell she always wished she could go back. She wanders from her apartment in Murray Hill to Delmonico's, then Battery Park City, in a very different 1980s New York than the more glamorous city she'd come up in, and you could see how this Grande Dame in her fur coat could still stick it out with the drug dealers and the rappers and other ne'er-do-wells of a city that had seen better days. (There is a map to show exactly where she walks.)

I found the book refreshing and uplifting, without being remotely sweet or cheesy or manipulative. It's helpful if you've ever walked around New York, particularly if you've lived here. but not necessary. Every city we've lived in has its touchstones, its landmarks, its empty lots where such-and-such used to be. And this is a wonderful homage to a time and place long gone, in a place yet still around, where new young female advertising executives are taking their first tentative steps up the career ladder, and you can see them in Lillian's reflection.

I got this book for free from my work, Macmillan, which is the publisher.

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