A young woman arrives in the big city. She meets a wealthy, mysterious man with the last name Grey, who introduces her to his private world. Heartbreak and emotional self-awareness ensue. Amor Towles’ 2011 debut novel, Rules of Civility, lacks the dungeon and humpy prose of 50 Shades of Grey, but the two books aren’t so different—both explore how much a woman is supposed to be bowled over by a man’s money and status. For Katey, the novel’s flinty narrator, the answer is not so much: Set in Manhattan in 1938, the novel is rich with jazz, high-rises, and gin, but Katey is preternaturally skeptical about all this finery. “One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements,” as she puts it. Not a sexy sentiment, but she’s an enchanting advocate for it.
Towles discusses and signs his book at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. politics-prose.com. (202) 364-1919.