LILIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK
Most everyone who has read and commented on Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (written by Kathleen Rooney) uses the word charming at least once. Lillian is an eighty-five-year-old widow living alone with her cat Phoebe in Manhattan in the mid-1980s. Lillian loves at least two things passionately: New York City and walking. She also loves her ex-husband (deceased) and her son.
No matter our ages, many of us have learned the pleasures of walking even if we all walk for different reasons. Lillian walks for her life. The novel takes place on New Year’s Eve day, 1984. It begins about midday after a telephone conversation with her son who again laments that she will not move out of the city. She hangs up, then realizes she’s absent-mindedly consumed the better part of an entire package of Oreo cookies while on the phone. She doesn’t even remember buying the cookies, but buying almost anything is key to this story. Lillian knows how to sell what people will buy.
While working for R. H. Macy, Lillian Boxfish became the highest-paid female advertising copywriter in the world. In her day, she was bright, witty, outrageously independent, and the darling of New York City. In addition to advertising, she published some wildly popular books of light verse. She arrived at these heights on the tails of her father’s much-maligned sister who lived as a single woman, a nurse, in Manhattan, and was happily independent until she died of the flu in 1919. While alive, she would regale her young and very bright niece living in D.C. with railroad postcards containing a picture and a stanza of light verse about a glamorous fictional woman who rode the clean-running Anthracite railroad. To be single in New York City and to write light verse became Lillian’s goal.
The reader already knows quite a bit about Lillian by the time she leaves her flat with the expectation she will arrive at a favorite restaurant around five. We are enamored by her humor, her tenacity, her longevity. Lillian sets off, wearing a favorite mink coat but worrying if she will, after eating so many Oreos, even be hungry for a New Year’s Eve meal.
That question is the first hint that things might not go as planned. For those of you who are familiar with NYC, Lillian’s walk will be engaging. For everyone else, Google a map, her journey will amaze you. My fear that this novel would be sickly sweet was quashed before seven that evening. She is a full-bodied character, gifted, but human and flawed. We are with her every step of the way, and some of those steps are scary.
I found it hard to believe that such a young Kathleen Rooney could capture so perfectly big-city America from 1900 to 1984. So, please do not miss her Notes and Sources at the end of the book. Then, look up Margaret Fishback and wonder who will play her part when they make a movie of her life. Let’s hope Kathleen Rooney writes the screenplay. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Kathleen Rooney: O, Democracy; Robinson Alone; For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs; Live Nude Girl, My Life as an Object; Oneiromance; That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness; Reading with Oprah, The Book Club that Changed America; Sisters, An Inside Look.
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