“Rules of Civility”

rulesofcivilityI have finally finished the saddest of books. Saturday before Christmas, I went shopping with “Dollie” and she found presents for everyone except me. When T. fetched us in town, we had one more errand to do, before returning home with sore feet, and that was going to the supermarket. They took their time getting a trolley and I started to look at some books on sale. This book was priced in the price class “Dollie” was buying gifts in, so when she got in to the supermarket, I showed her the book and said that I would not mind that one for Christmas. Why? Because the backside said the following: “The year is 1938 and the Depression is nearing its end and the war has not yet thrown its shadow over New York. Life is full of possibilities and Katey and her friend Eve are determined to live here and now. At a night club they meet Tinker Grey, suave, handsome and rich. Soon the three are inseparable friends and together they enjoy everything that New York has to offer – jazz, parties, wild antics. But a tragic accident changes everything and soon Katey is drawn in to a complicated triangle drama with the two people she loves the most”.

Sounded like an exciting book about a time period and place that I know little of. In other words, my daughter gave me the book for Christmas and I happily started the book soon after unwrapping it. But I suddenly stopped reading it, hating the book and not wanting to continue the story. I have had it on my dresser for almost three months now and “Dollie” asking over and over again. if I am not going to finish my Christmas present. I finally felt bed for letting her down like that, so I brazed myself and decided to read it, no matter how much pain it caused me.

What happened that made me stop reading it? It started out like a bit of a mystery. Katey goes to a photo exhibition in New York with her husband Val. Difficult to determine if she really loves him! It’s the 1960s and they are successful in their careers, no children and nearing 60. They are not too happy at the exhibition since there are too many people and Katey does not pay attention too much until she sees a face in a photograph, that she recognises. Her husband notices and she explains that the man is Tinker Grey, an old friend of hers, that he must have heard of? In the photo he looks like a scraggy homeless person, happy but skinny, dirty-looking and sitting in the New York subway. Husband Val, feels that it is time to leave. But Katey starts wondering, the photo was taken in 1939, the year after she said goodbye to Tinker Grey for the last time. On their way out, she suddenly spots another photo of Tinker, from 1938, where he is smartly dressed in a cashmere coat and other nice clothes, chubbier in his face but without the happy look from the 1939 photo. Val, gets happy and says “so he landed on his feet, that is nice!”. He gets upset when Katey informs him that the well-dressed photo is the earlier one, of Tinker.

From there we move back in time. It started out semi-nice. Katey is a working class girl, daughter of an immigrant Russian father and a mother we hear nothing about really since she abandoned the family early on. Katey works in a secretary pool in a solicitors’ office and lives in a boarding house with other girls. She spends most of her time with her books. She becomes friends with a rich mid-west girl who works at a publishing house, where other rich girls work as well. Since their salary is so low at that place, their parents supplement their income. Eve Ross, becomes Katey’s room-mate and a new world opens up to Katey. She gets to borrow this long-legged blonde’s gorgeous dresses and other clothes. And they start going out together. On new year’s eve, they go to a little club and encounters a very handsome young man who is waiting for his brother, that never shows. Eve has one fault from the beginning, which made me hate her from the start. She only cares about ONE person and that is EVE. She gladly takes Katey along on things, but her interests are the ones that count. So when they see Tinker, she informs Katey that he belongs to HER! Katey does not agree for once, because she is smitten with Tinker herself. And he shows clear preference for Katey even though Eve does everything to make him only see her. Early on in the book, they get drunk and the car crash happens. Eve is thrown through the windshield and suddenly Katey takes a second seat. Tinker feels so guilty, that gone are the feelings he had for Katey. He feels that he owes it to Eve, to stay by her hospital bed till she awakes from her coma. And when she does, her father is there from Indiana, to take her home. But she refuses. The doctors have assumed that Tinker is her husband, but he tells them the truth. At the same time, he understands from Eve, that she is not going to let him off the hook. Like she says later to Katey, if you have broken something, you have to pay for it. And the way he has to pay, is to bring Eve home to his luxurious flat, and keep her there, look after her and devout all his time to her. Katey expects to help out but she is told in no uncertain terms, by Eve, that Tinker now wholly and entirely belongs to Eve, and that she must step back and disappear out of their lives. Eve is going to make the most of it and she does. She wants no more competition and Katey, doesn’t dare to object since Tinker suddenly have become a wet noodle.

Months go by without her hearing anything from the couple and I stopped reading the book since I hated Eve so vehemently that I could not continue. Why should evil people like this be rewarded? Yes, her face got cut up but WHY should she want to be with a man that really didn’t want her from the start, that is just doing everything out of duty, because he feels guilty? When my inside becomes an uproar, I don’t like continuing reading a book! What happened after the months had gone by and I picked up the book again? Tinker phoned Katey and asked if she could please forget what ever grievance she had with Eve? The stupid man not knowing what Eve had done, telling Katey to scram so she could gobble up Tinker in peace, like a black widow spider. He asked Katey to come and “babysit” Eve so that he could go to the office. Katey does, and Eve doesn’t want her there. But Katey stays till Eve has fallen asleep and Katey goes for an excursion in the flat, to see if the two are sleeping together. To her satisfaction, he sleeps in the maid’s room and Eve in the master bedroom. He has bought fancy clothes for Eve. But that is it. She studies the flat in detail, and notices that everything is to perfection, everything from paper weight to cigarette lighters are perfectly male, but have a female touch over them. Chosen by a woman in other words. The decoration of the flat breathes a woman’s touch, but is perfect for a gentleman. Except for the maid’s room where there is a strange painting from the harbour, with labourers and a big neon light. It’s signed by Tinker’s brother Hank. It does not fit the rest of the flat.

When Tinker comes home, he looks newly bathed, more dressed than before leaving, and he kisses Katey. Her hopes are re-kindled. They are supposed to meet but weeks later she receives a postcard, that Tinker has taken Eve to Palm beach. He says they will see each other in two weeks and Katey waits, but then she receives a letter from the Keys. From Eve and there is a lot of WE in it. She dreads what that means. One day, Eve phones her and begs her to come to a dinner party and Katey accepts out of curiosity. Eve wears long diamond earrings, reaching to her shoulders and Katey asks if Tinker gave them to her. To torment herself I think. Eve answers that she found them in a drawer, put them on and had them on every day for weeks to see if he would say something, but he never did, so she decided that now they belong to her. Katey goes on another excursion to the bedroom and notices, sadly, that Eve no longer sleeps alone. She wants to leave the ghastly party. But she is forced to remain there with a dinner partner that ignores her, with a friend of Tinker’s that has a wife that hates the other two women present and with her two friends that she now knows, are lovers. Tinker explains that they are making a go at it, since after all, they have been thrown in each others way. I would have spat him in the face.

Can it get worse than this? Yes, in this book it can. Eve phones Katey one day because she wants a lunch companion. Tinker is going to London and has asked Eve what she wants for Birthday present. Eve has gone and spent his money on a new dress, shoes and hand bag, but has told him that all she wants is dinner at a fancy restaurant. She promises Katey after the lunch that Katey has paid for, that she will treat Katey on Katey’s Birthday later that month. But Katey gets a telegram from Eve that she must celebrate on her own, because Eve is on her way to London with Tinker. She had made him take her. And afterwards they are off to the Riviera to stay with the dinner guests that Katey had met, the husband with the jealous wife. Katey is disappointed, spends a fortune on clothes and goes to have dinner on her own. Soon she reads in gossip columns what a success handsome Tinker was with his gorgeous companion, on the ship over to England, winning all sorts of trophies at a treasure hunt. She receives a letter from Tinker where he says that he and Eve spends every day saying “Katey would have loved this”, when they DO England. It is true, the trip is wasted on Eve that is just shopping away, but Katey would have loved the views, churches, historical sites…

Katey changes job, since she feels stuck in a route. She asks for employment at Eve’s old workplace, not understanding that to work there, you must have a parent’s income to back you up, because the salary is next to nil. But she is introduced to rich men that has just graduated from University, and with them she is invited to crazy parties and all sorts of fun things. Only she doesn’t have Eve’s dresses to borrow anymore. She manages to land another job, thinking that she gets it thanks to publishing boss running in to a magazine owner, who is looking for someone just like Katey. That man is starting up a gossip magazine and needs an assistant. She and his regular assistant, are supposed to compete for the job till New Year’s Eve 1938, and the best will get the job. But his other assistant has a plan for them both to get the job. With her new set of friends, she sneaks in at a party and at first she is doing alright, till she finds out what Tinker and Eve have been up to. She runs in to the woman from the dinner party, the one that hated the fact that she was not center of attention, in the ladies’. On the floor, she finds one of the diamond earrings that Eve had stolen out of Tinker’s drawer. She pockets it but also realizes that Eve must be at the party then. The lady is glad to fill her in on the Riviera vacation, where SHE had been center of attention and Eve having a rotten time. Eve had slept till 14:00 while Tinker went swimming early in the mornings and then went to bed early. Eve partying at night. Katey’s hopes are once again lit, since it sounded like the couple was tiring of each other. But the woman tells her that Tinker went to Paris and asked her what he should buy for Eve at Cartier? A bracelet? A necklace? The woman had shown her diamond ring that looked like an ice-skating rink and said “I told him to get Eve a ring exactly like this one”. So he did. And now they are out on a yacht and soon coming back to the party! Katey feels sick and wants to go home. The host of the party, tells his son, Valentine (Val. Yes, you guessed it, her future husband that on this occasion did not show her any attention at all. Not until 1947 do they meet again and get married. So neither was impressed by the other in 1938.) to drive Katey to the train station. but he insists on driving her home since he hates the party.

Katey is devastated till she gets a phone call some time later. It’s the police that wonders if she knows an Eve Ross. They had found her drunk in the gutter. Katey goes to fetch Eve and she and Eve has to drink coffee with the police that tries to persuade them to change occupation. The police assuming Eve to be a prostitute since she has scarring all over her face and limps, and Katey to be so as well, since she is her friend. Eve gets to tell Katey what has happened. Eve jokes about the whole thing, when telling Katey how ridiculous Tinker had been on the yacht a while ago. She tells Katey about how she avoided him on the Riviera, having been tired of him for months, but the peak was reached when he had taken her out on the yacht, with champagne and going down on his knee. She had said NO and he had asked her to keep the gigantic diamond ring and think about things. In his frustration over the no, he had driven on to a sand bank and they had sat there for hours, before they were towed to the party where everyone expected an announcement to be made and congratulations being due. Katey sees the ring. And wonders where Tinker is. Katey leaves for her home in Indiana, but her father phones Katey to ask her if she knows of Eve’s whereabouts, since she never arrived. The selfish girl continued to Los Angeles where Katey guesses that she had gone to a pawn shop with one gigantic diamond ring and ONE diamond earring.

Tinker phones Katey to come to a friend’s cabin in the mountains and Katey of course heads there right away. Only to get disappointed since he will not touch her, behaving like the perfect gentleman. But something is dawning on her little by little. When she returns to New York, she is starting to learn more and more about the real Tinker. And it is not anything pleasant. First of all, his most beloved book is George Washington’s 110 rules of civility. She buys a copy of it and realizes that Tinker has studied this to perfection. He behaves just like the book, in detail. Nothing is a coincidence. Early on in their acquaintance, he introduces her to his godmother Mrs. Anne Grandyn. An old friend of his mother’s, he says. But Katey is becoming more and more suspicious. She runs in to Anne and doesn’t quite trust the woman. When Tinker comes back from the mountains, she is supposed to have dinner with him. She is all excited about it, and decides to kill time by having lunch with a friend. When they arrive to the restaurant, Katey spots Tinker and Anne, but he doesn’t spot Katey, who forces her friend behind a screen. They have a perfect view from there, and Katey sees Anne stroking Tinker’s thigh in a most inappropriate place. Tinker spots Katey as she storms out and becomes grey in his face, rushes after Katey and she strikes him in the face after having called him a creep.

Anne contacts Katey and tells Katey that she always expected Tinker to find a girl his own age, that it wouldn’t be an idiot like Eve but an intellectual girl like himself. But that she has needs, but that there is no reason for them  not being able to share? To Katey, all pieces fall in place. When she meets Tinker at a café to talk, she spits out her hatred and anger. She tells him how the police had taken her and Eve for prostitutes and wasn’t that funny???? Tinker feels it’s under the belt, but that is what he is. He wanted to get up in the world, and he sold his body to Anne, to ge introduced to important people, get a dream job, earning big money. The flat belongs to her, the diamond earrings, everything. Katey can’t stop loving Tinker but she hears nothing from him and she is angry. What is worse, is the fact that one day, Anne shows up at her flat. Anne is offering the flat to Katey. Katey declines but Anne gives her the key and tells her to try it for six months, to see if she likes it, since it is closer to her job. When they part in the door, Anne kisses Katey. Katey is shocked at first, but then pulls Anne towards herself. Anne thinks that she is going to get kissed, but Katey drops the key down in to Anne’s knickers, and slams the door. Sadly, she finds out, from her boss, that she did not receive the job thanks to her boss at the publishing company running in to the gossip magazine owner, but the job was got by recommendation from Mrs. Anne Grandyn. Katey is disgusted but she has worked so hard at the job as assistant, and her fellow assistant was right, at the end of the year, the boss can’t live without either of them. So they both get to stay on.

Tinker? Well, Katey guesses where he might be. He has left everything behind and has set up home in his painter brother’s room, down in the harbour, where they grew up during a couple of years when their parents were being poor. Once again, he behaves like an utter gentleman. She discovers that he has been reading her favourite book”Walden”, and many times. They spend a couple of nights together, but then one day, she finds out that he has left. He has only taken the book with him and she sees him as exploring the world, without any duties, any expectations. But she finds out, that when he disappeared from the face of the earth, he went to work in the harbour as a labourer. He didn’t stay there for long though. In 1940, she runs in to his brother and he informs her that Tinker lives the hard life among the poor in New York. I guess that is where he is being photographed, the second time, for that exhibition.

The book was very well written, but I really thought it was going to be a fun book, so I was disappointed.  I guess I did not expect all this sorrow and sadness and sordidness. The handsome Tinker was SO weak. And poor Katey that loved him for the rest of her life, even though he never really perhaps had any deep feelings for her. That one kiss in the flat, one kiss in the mountain cabin, and yet… She tried to have fun in 1938, but throughout the book one feels her pain, because she is always missing Tinker, hoping, wishing. But she hoped in vain. Eve was despicable. In one way, she saved her best friend with her selfishness. Had Katey become his girlfriend in early 1938, she would have had a rude awakening when she finally had found out that all the times he snuck off to the office, he was indeed sneaking off to his benefactor, the woman who kept him. Like he did that one night when he asked Katey to baby-sit Eve. But at the same time, her selfishness did not do Katey any favour at all.  Katey was miserable all the time, being jealous and keeping hoping that they would break up. Perhaps a couple of months with Tinker would have been better than nothing? Then she could have got him out of her system. When she would have found out about his relationship with Anne, she might already have discovered what a fraud he was. The only one that won in the book, was Tinker. He was happy. He was finally true to himself. He was finally listening to his conscience and that was rule 110, the one that Katey said, he must have failed to read, when studying the rules of civility!

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