Equal parts charming and annoying, Kathleen Rooney’s novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is probably a book that would best be enjoyed by people super familiar with Manhattan or who really care about the history of New York city. In fact, I’ve been known to loudly proclaim that I will not read books written about New York, or where the city itself is like another character. Barf. I’m full up on books like that. And despite what big publishing houses seem to think, there’s a wide a swath of readers who give zero fucks about New York City. Sorry.
But then when I read that eighty-five-year old Lillian Boxfish was walking around New York on New Year’s Eve 1984, I got a little bit more intrigued. When I learned she was a copywriting phenom of the 1930s and all-around girl about town I was in for the ride.
And the ride is pretty fun even if it frequently crosses the line into sit-com-like antics.
Lillian, you see, is off to her traditional New Years Eve dinner. She’s decked out in a blue fedora and a mink and she’s ready to get hear feast on like always at Delmonico’s. However, Lillian’s a little pissed, while talking to her son on the phone she’s managed to mindlessly eat a ton of Oreos and it has ruined her appetite. Oreos are Lillian’s great enemy. She thinks their advertising is shitty and she finds the cookies kind of bland. The Oreos come back over and over again in ever more coincidental ways.
Since she’s kind of full, and her dinner is ruined Lillian gambols about Manhattan reminiscing about prohibition and the men she slept with in the 20s. Her time as literary it-girl for her “light prose” and being called the highest paid copywriter in the world. . . for a girl. She tells us about her BFF and the fight for fair wages.
Along the way Lillian runs into a bunch of random strangers who are incredibly kind to her and eager to engage in witty banter, which seems a little at odds with the whole “New York is a dirty hellhole in the 80s” we are frequently reminded about throughout the book. This takes place shortly after the whole subway vigilante, Bernie Goetz, thing went down.
If you’re looking for plot, there’s none to be found here. This is a charming, if kinda light character study about a ballsy dame who is reflecting on her spectacular life.