I loved this book…I must read something I don’t like so you don’t think every book I read I am crazy about! I have, however, found that as I get older, and have read so much over the years, that if I am not engaged at the outset of the book I don’t finish it, bad Nena!
I had, of course, read advanced reviews of this novel and the subject matter appealed to me. Lillian Boxfish, a lady of an advanced age (in her 80’s), is reflecting on her life which consisted of living in New York where she was the highest paid advertising women in the country working at R. H. Macy’s in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The protagonist is, as the author relates, inspired by a real-life ad woman who worked at R. H. Macy’s, also the highest paid advertising women in the country, as well as a renowned poet at the time, Margaret Fishback. Ms. Rooney lists Ms. Fishback’s collections of “light verse” in her author’s notes. I now have to find them, perhaps a follow-up post on them.
I happen to love stories about New York during the ’30’s and 40’s (a bit before my time!) and I found Lillian’s story engaging, funny, charming and poignant from her hoarded orange lipstick (she bought it all in her early years and is still wearing it) to her mink coat to her walking trips that relax, engage and energize her. The story is told in the first person from the perspective of Lillian’s beginnings at R. H. Macy’s (and her constant fight to make the same salary as men in the industry, some things never change!!!) into her 80’s. What I really enjoyed is how she adapts to all the current trends, for an example, she likes rap and MTV! While I don’t like either I agree one must adapt to current trends or get left in the dust. In addition, I could easily relate to the world of advertising, my Father was considered one of the top (by many THE top) Art Director’s in Chicago (remember most of the nations ad agencies were formed and located in Chicago in the 40’s and 50’s) so I grew up around that creativity and pots of rubber cement! When I started my career at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago we placed all the advertising in the local papers (we had four at the time!). They were prepared Corporately but we managed our own budgets and could decide where we wanted our ads to run. I worked with our local ad reps and actually had a layout board in our office and scrapbooks filled with all the ads and we ran a lot. I missed that when we stopped running ads on a regular basis and all were placed by Corporate.
Lillian’s character is one of a strong “liberated” smart young woman, this only intensifies as she ages. She changes with the times but she really remains the same. Lovers come and go (this isn’t a romance novel, but she is human after all!) a husband, son and grandchildren are included but it is really the story of an independent woman who made it on her own and enjoyed the fruits of her clever advertising copy and charming poetry. The ending is sublime!!! I love that the author, Kathleen Rooney is also a poet as well as an author of fiction and nonfiction, in addition to her writing is a senior lecturer in English and creative writing at DePaul University and resides in Chicago. I would highly recommend the book do tell me how you like it.
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