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Elegant wit and prose

BOOKS | Writer Amor Towles sees human nature as it is

Table for Two Amor Towles

Elegant wit and prose
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AUTHOR WILLIAM FAULKNER said most novelists become novelists because they can’t crank out a convincing short story. Mercifully, Amor Towles, author of the much-loved A Gentleman in Moscow, proves he’s more than a one-trick-pony writer. His Table for Two (Viking 2024) has six short stories and a novella as an addendum, each a thing of beauty, full of Towles’ signature classy wit and elegant prose.

For the short stories, there’s “The Ballad of Timothy Touchett,” featuring an aspiring writer who agrees to forge signatures in first edition books. In “The Bootlegger,” an Ivy League investment banker eats humble pie when he accidentally gets an old man banned from Carnegie Hall. Every story takes place in a different time with different narrators that showcase Towles’ range.

Unlike many short-story writers, Towles doesn’t rely on shocking, gruesome twists in the denouement. His stories are poignant because they bear witness to reality, a reality where actions—and inactions—have consequences.

Finally, his novella Eve in Hollywood explores one of Towles’ characters from Rules of Civility. Heading by train to Chicago, Eve decides to ride to the end of the line: Los Angeles. With a haunting scar on her cheekbone and fear of absolutely nothing, Eve becomes the gossip of Hollywood. She makes friends with a stuntman, a retired detective, a washed-up actor, and Olivia de Havilland. When someone blackmails De Havilland with nude photos she never posed for, Eve assembles a crack team of has-beens to avenge her new friend.

The novella is the raciest section in the book. When the perpetrators describe the photos, though, it’s clearly meant to be seen as vulgar and cruel rather than alluring. Some bad language occurs throughout the book, but Towles doesn’t seem to go in for vulgarity. He includes swearing only if a character’s mood calls for it. All the same, Table for Two is more profane than A Gentleman in Moscow.

Towles’ conclusions aren’t always sound, but he’s perceptive about human nature. He explains exactly what he thinks his audience should understand while leaving them room to make up their own minds. He’s also funny and acutely aware of his proclivity to tangents: “Bear with me,” he writes. “I promise to be brief.”

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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