Happy Friday to one and all!
Today’s post is something a bit new and different for That Book Lady Blog – my first installment of “Reading Notes.” It’s basically a chance for me to jot down some of my thoughts on a book I’m currently reading.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers when I can, but if I simply can’t help it I’ll include a disclaimer.
Last week I began reading an advance copy of “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” by Kathleen Rooney. It’s taking me a bit longer to get through it than I would have anticipated, as I’m also participating in Adventures of a Bibliophile’s “Little Women” readalong. More on that soon.
Anyway, about “Lillian Boxfish”:
It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.
As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.
A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.
There are certain book characters we readers just can’t help clicking with from page one, and Lillian Boxfish is like that for me. She’s a sassy, free-spirited and creative old lady, but don’t you dare call her “old” (never mind that it’s just plain rude – she really doesn’t even act old).
“The insouciance of youth doesn’t stay, but shades into ‘eccentricity,’ as people say when they are trying to be kind, until finally you become just another lonely crackpot. But I’ve always been this way. The strangeness just used to seem more fashionable, probably.”
She’s been lying about her age for years: Is she 85? Eighty-four? No matter. She remains young at heart, and that’s one of the things I find so endearing about this quirky woman as she wanders the streets of New York City on New Year’s Eve 1984, clad “in my blue hat, my mink coat, my mustard-yellow Coloralls.”
Yes, she knows the streets of the city she’s come to know so well and love so much after nearly 60 years aren’t as safe as they once were. But walking is therapeutic for her, and so she keeps putting one foot in front of the other as she ponders accepting a party invitation, fibbing along the way to people she meets that she has family waiting for her.
“I am old and all I have left is time. I don’t mean time to live; I mean free time. Time to fill. Time to kill until time kills me. I walk and walk and think and think. It gets me out, and it keeps me healthy, and no one on the street seems to want to mess with me, as they say on the street. All my friends in New York – back when I still had friends, before everyone moved away or died – had mugging stories, but I’ve never had trouble.”
She has family, but she is hesitant to spend much time with them. She seems afraid of intruding, and she’s also afraid they think she’s reaching the age when she can no longer take care of herself.
And so she keeps walking. Along the way, she meets a diverse cast of characters – a young family with a precocious daughter, a bored limousine driver, a Vietnam veteran who’s working as a night watchman …
“My long walks, I discover, have provided a rich reserve of encounters with odd, enthusiastic, decent people; I hadn’t realized that I have these stories until someone asked to hear them.”
Between these encounters, she reflects on the life she’s lived … breaking away from an overbearing mother and leaving her hometown of Washington, D.C., to make a life for herself in New York. Building a career as a top advertising woman for R.H. Macy’s and a nominally-successful poet whose name appears regularly in the society pages. Enduring a few romantic hits-and-misses, reluctant to give up her independence even after she becomes a wife and mother in an age when keeping house and sustaining a career don’t mix.
“My work used to be like art for me: giving form to the world. I sometimes have a vague intimation that people were better read and smarter once upon a time … Now I don’t work anymore, and the world is uncomfortable.”
Needless to say, this book continues to draw me in. I’m really enjoying this walk with Ms. Boxfish and the wisdom she imparts.
“Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk,” published by St. Martin’s Press, will be available for sale beginning Jan. 17, 2017.