“Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” by Kathleen Rooney

Pub. Date:  January, 17, 2017lillian

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

This novel caught my eye because I am a native New Yorker, and this tale’s location is New York City. The story takes place from the 1930s till New Year’s Eve, 1984. Our heroine is Lillian Boxfish. As a young woman, Lillian took the city by storm. Working at Macy’s she was the highest paid advertising woman in the country. She also managed to have a few books of her poems published. Her every move was documented in the society pages. She was a dynamo of a woman that other working females longed to be. Then she married and had a child forcing her to retire. She hid her pregnancy for as long as possible because back then once a woman became a mother it was unheard of for her to remain in a high powered job. So she stayed at home in her Murray Hill townhouse located in midtown Manhattan to raise her son. Now in the 1980s the city as a much more dangerous place than it was in the 1930s. Her grown son is always after her to move and join him and his family in the suburbs. But there was no way that Lillian would ever leave her beloved city.

On the last night of 1984, 85-year old Lillian, who is as sharp and NY savvy as ever, decides to take a ten-mile walk to get to a party. The walk takes her through some touristy (though not for her) as well as gritty sections of Manhattan to attend a party. Lillian’s New Year’s Eve stroll is really a stroll through her life, mixing in a Manhattan history lesson. She reminisces on her city life throughout the years, from the Jazz Age to the birth of hip-hop, from the Prohibition’s speakeasies to the 80s AIDS epidemic. The blurb of this book says that the novel is a love letter to the city, but I feel that the author, Kathleen Rooney, made the city as much of a character as Lillian. And what a fascinating character she created in Lillian: bright, witty, open minded, and always ahead of her time. But most of all, her inquisitiveness makes her a very charming human being. During her stroll, young teens attempt to mug her. She realizes that this might be the last walk of her life. Lillian had no intention of going down without at least trying to talk to them. And talk she did. She convinced them into a trade, her mink coat for a new trendy coat worn by one of the boys. They loved that she knew their favorite hip-hop songs, and had questions on the lyrics that she considered to be poems. So instead of her mugging being a tragic scene, it is a very funny one with the boys walking away scratching their heads.

There is much humor in this book. You will laugh often. But Lillian feels real and real life is never always fun. You might shed a tear as I did when Lillian walks past the hospital where she was once inpatient, suffering from a severe episode of depression. This is when her husband divorced her and married another woman. In the hospital, she had electric shock treatments which left her missing memories of that part of her life, including and worst of all, missing memories of her son during that time. But have no fear, Lillian has so much passion for life you will soon be smiling again reading about her next adventure during her walk to reach her destination, which is a New Year’s Eve party. The party is being thrown by a young, and of course, starving artist. At this party she will mingle with men dressed as women and Lillian will not bat an eyelash. Rooney did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of a New York woman. In her endnotes, we learn that the character Lillian was inspired by Margaret Fishback, which explains the odd last name of Boxfish.

I felt in many ways this novel was really a historical fiction taking the reader through half a century of New York City’s history. Though I am sure others might find this book to be a bit cheesy I enjoyed it. I do love Manhattan. Or maybe I enjoyed it for it was easy to fall in love with Lillian. She reminded me of all the old black and white movies where the actress Rosalind Russell played roles as fast-talking newspaper women. I also love black and white movies. No matter, as an ex-New Yorker, I cannot wait to hop on a train for a visit to the one and only Big Apple.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

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