Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

“This, I am reminded, is why I love walking in the city, taking to the streets in pursuit of some spontaneous and near-arbitrary objective. If one knocks oneself out of one’s routine – and in so doing knocks others gently out of theirs – then one can now and again create these momentary opportunities to be better than one is.” (Rooney, 156)

It is New Year’s Eve, 1984, and we meet Lillian Boxfish, an 85 year-old woman who puts on a mink coat, and as the title suggests, takes a walk through Manhattan revisiting past and beloved spots. Spanned over six decades in 287 pages, “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” is a charming tale of a self-assured heroine set in New York City.

While on this evening walk, Lillian ruminates on her past life as a pioneering copywriter for Macy’s in the ‘30s, who goes on to publish volumes of light-verse poetry. She forges a career, becomes a successful name, and, at one point in her life, is the highest-paid advertiser in the country.

On Lillian’s New Year Eve stroll, she chats with restaurateurs, dines with a family, helps a pregnant woman to a nearby hospital, parties with artists, and more, all while short snippets of falling in love with Manhattan during the Jazz Age, taking lovers, and futilely cajoling her boss for equal pay flood her memory. She shares her experience of marriage to the love of her life, and tells readers of her darker days and her emotional breakdown. Yet, the Manhattan of Lillian’s past no longer exists, and in its place, is a city that is deteriorating with crime.

This delightful tale is based loosely on a real one, Margaret Fishback, and Rooney bridges fact and fiction with NYC’s past and future in this elegantly written novel about human connection.
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P.S. I didn’t do a 2018 book recap (life got in the way), so if you’re interested in seeing what I read last year, check out my Goodreads list.

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