Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney


Sassy octogenarian Lillian Boxfish’s walk through the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve stirs up memories and results in chance encounters

My review

Lillian is stylish, witty (even waspish at times), single-minded, successful, generous but also a woman whose life has not followed an untroubled path.  During her walk on New Year’s Eve, we learn about her pioneering career in advertising, her relationships and get hints of darker times that are only fully revealed towards the end of the book.  Lillian takes pride in her ability to use words as tools (whether to craft advertising copy or poetry) but also, on occasions, as weapons. Some of my favourites “Lillianisms” include:

“My mother resented Sadie like a stepsister resenting Cinderella, but she was polite. She did her no social violence.”

“This time of year is depressing. New Year’s Eve is a bigger thug than any mugger, the way it makes people feel.”

(About her colleague and bête noire, Olive): “I marvelled at her mother’s prescience in having named her daughter after a green – with envy – cocktail garnish: hollow and bitter.” Ouch!

(About her other bête noire, Julia): “She had a beautiful smile, if you like people who have thousands of teeth and no evident capacity ever to be sad.” Double ouch!

As well as the story of Lillian’s life, the book is a love letter to New York (“Any day you walk down a street and find nothing new but nothing missing counts as a good day in a city you love. People are forever tearing something down, replacing something irreplaceable”) and a celebration of walking and the art of flanerie (“Typically neither closeness nor distance matter much to me on my walks. Neither convenience nor difficulty is my objective”).

Another theme seems to be how bigotry and prejudice can cause people to miss out on potentially fulfilling relationships. I really enjoyed the book but, for me, not all of Lillian’s encounters during her walk were as successful or as meaningful as others. I was interested to learn that Lillian is inspired by a real person – Margaret Fishback, who, like her fictional counterpart, was a poet and the highest-paid female advertising copywriter in the world in the 1930s.  You can find out more about Margaret Fishback here: Article

P.S. I love the cover.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press

304 pages, publication date: 12 January 2017

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

In three words: Stylish, witty, engaging

About the Author

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and Creative Writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. A winner of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, her reviews and criticism has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Magazine and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay. Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk is her second novel.  Author Website


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