“Here, indeed, was a formidable sentence–one that was on intimate terms with a comma, and that held the period in healthy disregard.” (A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles)
Poor Mr. Towles. I’m going to do what every sophomore novelist of a bestselling debut fears: compare the recent work not to the past work, but to a vaguely recollected feeling about the past work. The details of Rules of Civility have faded in my memory – a few scenes about a love triangle, some jewelry, a bored woman playing cards – while the wonder remains. I loved it so much that I couldn’t even write a coherent review, so much that I pre-ordered A Gentleman in Moscow the day news about it hit the library review journals.
When I picture this book as a novel, I imagine a viscous liquid dropped on a flat surface: at first you think it will assume a shape, but then it spreads out, thin and borderless. If you think of A Gentleman in Moscow as a collection of short stories, however, or a long book of exquisite vignettes about one character and one place, then you can focus on the brilliance of the language instead of the faults in plot arch. For Towles, more than anything else, more than history or philosophy or musing, loves words. He loves them in footnotes, in conversations between family members, in chapter titles and in poems, and when you read him, he reminds you that you love them too.