Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is set primarily on New Year’s Eve in 1984 when 85-year-old Lillian ambles through the streets of Manhattan remembering her exceptional life. The novel captures the delightfully wry disdain expressed by this notable woman who was ahead of her time in the 1920s and 30s. With its charming reminiscences of the period between 1926 and 1984, the novel feels like a romp led by Dorothy Parker and Forrest Gump.

When Lillian moves to New York after college, she lands a job in R.H. Macy’s advertising department. Lillian has no desire for marriage but falls for Max, Macy’s head rug buyer, and soon finds herself unemployed because she’s given birth to their son. A marital rift and her inability to work lead to Lillian’s mental breakdown all of which she remembers as she strolls the city streets so many years later.

She visits her favorite restaurant, walks on to Delmonico’s where her marriage ended, helps a pregnant woman into the Emergency Room, learns from an immigrant working in a bodega, attends a trendy party given by a young artist friend in a dangerous area, and has a humorous encounter with three muggers. Some of her adventures defy belief, yet the author’s skilled writing and Lillian’s joie de vivre help the reader accept them.  

The novel is an ode to the art of perambulating and the way such meandering focuses the mind. Thus, it is in Lillian’s thoughts that the book soars. With sentences like the following, it’s easy to fall under the book’s spell. “Among the many unsurprising facts of life that, when taken in aggregate, ultimately spell out the doom of our species is this: People who command respect are never as widely known as people who command attention.”

Poet and writer Rooney took her inspiration for Lillian Boxfish from another poet and writer, Margaret Fishback who was supposedly the world's highest-paid female advertising copywriter in the 1930s. One of the joys of reading Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is that the novel makes the reader yearn to learn more about Margaret Fishback (while imposing phrases like “yearn to learn” upon the brain). Fishback wrote attention-grabbing ads for R.H. Macy’s and published poems in the leading magazines of the day.

Busy Day at the Office by Margaret Fishback

This is a day when I covered no ground.
Just pushed and shuffled my papers around,
Nudged at letters and winced at bills,
Sorting them out into different hills,
Hunted fretfully for a ruler,
Worried the overworked water cooler,
Sharpened pencils and filled my pen,
Then shuffled my papers around again.

Find more of her poems and her biography here.

Summing it Up: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is a love letter to perambulating and words. It delivers you to another time and place where you feel that you’re walking alongside Lillian. It makes you want to jump up from your perch to take a stroll of your own to embed Kathleen Rooney’s lovely phrases into your consciousness.

Note: Author Kathleen Rooney is a flaneur, a stroller similar to those in 18th century France. She and a colleague who works with her at DePaul University often set out early in the morning and walk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., covering 10 to 15 miles, wandering throughout the city of Chicago. She says it’s a way to learn “Who has power and who lacks it, who is remembered and who is forgotten, who is thriving, who is struggling—all of those things about who is at the margins and who is at the center.”

Rating: 4 stars
Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Pigeon Pie, Dessert, Book Club

Publication date: January 17, 2017

What Others are Saying:

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-250-11332-0a

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