Ever become instantly besotted with a book? Irrevocably attached within the first few sentences? For me, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk was such a book.
It is New Year’s Eve in 1980’s New York, and Lillian Boxfish (also in her eighties) sets out to dine at her favorite neighborhood restaurant as she always does on this holiday. Lillian chooses to walk a circuitous path, rather than the route of most expediency. As she walks the streets of New York, she is reminded of her past. From the 1920’s to the 1980’s, Lillian recalls her life in vivid and poetic detail. At one time, in the youth of her career, she was the top-paid female in advertising, writing copy in charming verse for R.H. Macy’s department store. Later Lillian becomes a published poetess of some renown, and eventually a wife and mother pushed out of her career to attend to familial duties.
Lillian is a pistol. Both in the recollections of her past, and the little moments in the present in which she encounters a character along her walk, she is quick-witted, astute, and perpetually undeterred. Oscillating between politeness and acerbic wit, vivaciousness and melancholy, Lillian will make you pause to think about the world and your place in it.
When I encounter an exceptionally good book, I tend to read a little slower, attempting to absorb every word. If a book really touches me, I take out pen and paper and hand write the most poignant passages. For example:’
“I drink my Chianti and watch the other diners, none of them alone the way I am. And isn’t this key to the feeling of being alone – the sense that no one is like you?”
There is a great deal of sentiment in this book, though it is well balanced with moments of lightness and brevity. Perhaps my favorite thing about the novel is that each sentence is so beautifully crafted. It is apparent in the lyrical prose that author Kathleen Rooney is herself a poet. With even the shortest sentence she is capable of capturing an entire sub-story, such as:
“On postcards it never rains”.
Or, perhaps my favorite poetic passage:
“In the air hangs the scent of dampness and birthday candles blown out, which I have always associated with the presence of ghosts”.
It is sorely tempting to leave you with a whole series of quotes I adored, but I have pages of them, and it would make for a lazy review. Also, I want you to discover them for yourself. Suffice to say that this little book was riddled with such beauty and poise, that I’m half tempted to carry it with me everywhere, to purchase multiple copies and gift it to all my favorite bookish people.
I do have a penchant for curmudgeons and wise elderly characters. If you are tired of sage, cantankerous seniors, than you may wish to put this one aside. Even I will admit that the elderly Lillian is so youthful as to engender disbelief. She is totally independent, super agile (capable of walking all over the city for hours at a stretch without any complaint of physical discomfort), and she is adventurous even to her own peril. However, this is a work of fiction. Therefore, I don’t care one sniff if it’s unrealistic. Lillian is entirely loveable.
In many regards, this book would translate very well to the screen. The costumes alone (ranging from the 20’s, 30’s, 50’s, to the 80’s) would be worth the movie. Indeed, this book sometimes reminded me of my favorite old black and white movies, particularly the parts recalling Lillian’s advertising days. I thought the dialogue was reminiscent of the old Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell movie, His Girl Friday, smartly fast-paced and dry-humored. The right someone could turn this book into a gem of a film.
Though this book is entirely imagined, Lillian was partially inspired by a real female ad exec from the 1930’s, Margaret Fishback. Rooney includes a brief author’s note at the end of the novel about her discovery of Fishback and how the real woman inspired the fictional character. As if I couldn’t love this book more…
♥ Have you ever fallen in love with a book within the first page? Tell me in the comments what book, or books, you’ve loved as much as I love Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk… ♥