Throwback Thursday: Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk.  It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago.  If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.

Today I’m revisiting a book that I reviewed in the early days of my blog: the engaging and witty, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney, published in January 2017.  It will be available in paperback in April 2018.

Lillian Boxfish Takes A WalkAbout the Book

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 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.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (297 pp.)   Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Published: 17th January 2017               Genre: Literary Fiction

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Find Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk on Goodreads

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.

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

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In three words: Stylish, witty, engaging

Kathleen RooneyAbout 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.

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