Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

29939353I was not expecting to like this nearly as much as I did. The premise struck me as a bit tiring, contrived: an 84 year old woman takes a walk through New York on New Year’s Eve, 1984. I’m not adverse to books that take place in a single day or a few hours, but I wasn’t first in line to read this one.

Happily, it completely surprised me. I was so caught up in the story that I could not stop listening. Part of this may have been Xe Sands’ absolutely stunning narration on the audiobook. This is one of those books that truly shines on audio–the narrator and the author completely fell away and I was convinced I was listening to Lillian Boxfish tell her meandering, ordinary, and moving story. I highly recommend it on audio.

This is a quiet book, a lover letter to New York as much as the story of one woman’s life. But it also opened up big questions about the choices we make and how they affect our lives, about what we chose to hold on to and what to let go, and about the complexities and expectations of womanhood–in the 1920s and 30s, and in the 1980s.

The narrative jumps back and forth between Lillian’s new year’s eve walk through New York and her earlier life: her arrival in the city, her advertising career at R.H. Macy’s, her marriage and divorce, motherhood. What I found so compelling was how ordinary many of these experiences are. Nothing dramatic happened in this book, and yet Lillian felt completely original, a wholly imagined woman with a rich inner life, musing on her joys and regrets, her successes and failures, and the messy and unexpected journey of her life.

Witty and sharp, written in smooth and elegant prose, this book reminded me that sometimes the best fiction is not flashy or extraordinary, but simply illuminates the mundane in our lives. Lillian Boxfish is a character I will not soon forget.

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