Riveting Reads: The Best Fiction of 2011

Our favorite novels of the year—and why we loved them. Plus, be sure to see the best nonfiction books of 2011 and seven more books we loved this year. Plus: Be sure to see the best nonfiction books of 2011 and seven more books we loved this year.
Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility

352 pages; Penguin Books
In Amor Towles's debut novel, Rules of Civility (Viking), post-Depression Manhattan—the glittering metropolis of cocktails, jazz clubs, and glamorous apartment towers guarded by knowing doormen—is also the city of profound reinvention. Towles's fascinating narrator, Katey (née Katya) Kontent, works as a secretary at a white-shoe law firm, where she deftly hides the fact that she's the daughter of immigrant laborers. Refreshingly unconcerned about becoming an old maid—she just turned 25!—she nevertheless finds herself in competition with her roommate for the affections of one very attractive patrician named Tinker Grey. ("How the Wasps loved to nickname their children after the workaday trades: Tinker. Cooper. Smithy.") The charming and cerebral Katey appears to have the edge, until Eve is badly injured in a car accident in Tinker's roadster. Guilt-ridden, he moves Eve into his elegant Central Park West apartment; she gets better, they begin to travel together. As Katey learns about their escapades in Europe and the finer New York suburbs, she tries to make do with other privileged, sometimes more callow boys, but time has changed everything, including her. In the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave—and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.
— Lisa Birnbach