Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested.”
Kathleen Rooney’s novel is a journey through decades and city blocks. In a style of prose that is both graceful and sharp, we follow Lillian Boxfish, a copywriter savant, on her New Year’s Eve stroll through Manhattan, witnessing her first-hand accounts of New York in the 20th century.
Lillian Boxfish is an 85 year-old firecracker. With a lifetime of advertising achievements and glory under her belt, she has watched her life come full circle, and spends the last night of 1984 reflecting on the remarkable peaks and valleys of it all. She meets strangers on her trek through the city streets, and is unyielding in her open-minded nature, a whirlwind of both challenge and invitation to everyone she encounters, remarking that “people are so rarely disappointing. The city has taught me that.”
The story of Lillian Boxfish is actually based on “protofeminist” advertiser Margaret Fishback, a crucial note that I didn’t happen upon until the concluding Author’s Note. Rooney has been able to honor the legacy of an iconic female figure with fictionalizations that are respectful and appropriate. Lilian is a wholesome and independent protagonist, fleshed out so fully that now, in hindsight, it would be hard to believe that she wasn’t based on a real person.
Rooney paints a picture of NYC through Lillian’s eyes with all the passion and poetry of any young girl in awe of a big city. As a migrant into Chicago myself, I read these words with the remembrance of my first glimpses into the majesty and mood of city life. Lillian’s words resonated on such a deep level; it is clear that Rooney, too, has seen this majesty. As an occasional New York traveler, I can attest that her portrait of New York is also artistically accurate.
As we tour through Lillian’s personal and professional life, we are met with beautifully poetic prose that examines the nuance of past meeting present. This book is in no short supply of absolutely gorgeous quotes and language. Rooney masterfully narrates a thorough life story in a concise, graceful way that shows and tells in appropriate measure.
Personally, I loved this book. I will admit, it took a few tries and an airplane ride to get fully immersed in the details and heavier writing style, but the fluidity of the novel embraced me fully. My grandma bought me this book at the start of the new year, and I am so thankful that I finally pulled it off the bookshelf. Rooney has created a purely magnificent story centered around one of the strongest characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. Her attractive and witty prose, combined with the sharp wit and intelligence of the story, makes for an incredibly inspiring story.