Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

In 1985, eighty-six year old Lillian Boxfish once again defies stereotypes and the advice of others, walking alone at night through New York City, revisiting and ruminating on her past, while still very much alive to the present.

Lillian's aunt Sadie was a Manhattan career girl who wrote poems about her elegant advertising creation Phoebe. She inspired Lillie. In 1926 Lillie arrived in Manhattan, secured a copywriter job at R. H. Macy's, and in the 1930s became the highest paid female in advertising--and a best selling published poet. Lionized and the media's darling, sophisticated and daring, Lillian had been on top.

Now it is New Year's Eve, 1985. Lillian puts on her forty-year-old fur coat, applies her signature lipstick, Helena Rubinstein's Orange Fire, pulls on a pair of boots, and takes to the sidewalk. She has planned one last adventure to end the year. Destination: Domenico's for a do-over of a steak dinner that ended badly twenty years previous.

Lillian's life is revealed in bits and pieces through her memories; she came, she conquered; she fell in love and became a wife and mother; she lost herself, and then her man. Once a household name, her books are found in the sale pile outside the bookstore--worthless.

Don't think she is held hostage by her past. Lillian likes to keep up to date. She likes hip-hop for its use of words and is thrilled by break-dancing. She has a 'nostalgia for the new.' She makes friends with everyone she meets along the way, and fearlessly bargains with muggers. The city has lost it's lustre, the old places are gone or declined, but Lillian has never wanted to be anywhere else.

Non-linear in structure, the book must grab readers by Lillian's personal charisma and the mystery of her past. When Max arrives on the scene the drama picks up considerably as we learn about their passionate love and the marriage that required Lillian to give up her career and brought depression and alcoholism, shock treatment, and Max's affair.

The novel was inspired by a real ad woman, Margaret Fishback. Kathleen Rooney felt a deep connection to Fishback and wanted to bring her story to a new generation. The novel is also a love story to the city, memorializing its heyday but also celebrating its 20th c multicultural vitality.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney
St Martin's Press
Publication: January 17, 2017
$25.99 hard cover
ISBN: 9781250113320