Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

by Kathleen Rooney

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now―her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl―but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed―and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, 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. Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.


I loved this book. I listened to it on Audible (which I have since cancelled, will talk about later), and it was perfect. Lillian is just the best character. A raging, passionate feminist, she took over New York City at a time when women weren't considered capable of having careers. She's witty, intelligent, and completely her own. This never changes throughout the book; in fact, the only time she seemed depressed or unhappy with her life was when she was straddled with a husband and a child she didn't particularly want to have (to be clear - she did love them both). 

I honestly wish Lillian was real, and that I could get to know her as a person. She is everything I strive to be, and as I read the book, I related to just about everything she said, and every view she had on her life and the world around her. 

Lillian is telling this story as she takes a New Year's Eve stroll through New York City. She meets a variety of people along the way, and has the most interesting encounters with them all. Even when meeting people who would normally cause stress, Lillian is cool and collected, and handles herself in a smart (and hilarious) fashion.

The books spans history, starting in 1930 and ending in 1985 (which is the present-day in the novel). The events of American history serve as a backdrop for the story as Lillian recounts her life, and I'm certain that Rooney must have done significant research to accurately create such a female-powerhouse during this range of years.

I didn't read this book; I listened to it on Audible, so I think that it was well-written, but I honestly wasn't paying as much attention to that. I liked the way the book was laid-out -- the chapters alternated between a historical moment, and the present. 

Now, the narrator for Lillian was perfect. She had an older voice (Lillian is in her eighties), and she read at the perfect pace, and with perfect intonation. With that said, I think I would have liked this book better if I had just read it myself. I cancelled my Audible subscription after this one; I kept getting distracted on the train, and had to re-listen to various parts. I found it discouraging, and I think it took a little bit of the joy away from the book.

Still, I'm giving it 5-stars. Kathleen Rooney shouldn't be punished for my crappy commute, and neither should Lillian. This books is amazing, and I highly recommend it.


Buy this book here.

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