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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017)

by Kathleen Rooney

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7746419,901 (4)170
"Fall 2016 Library Journal Editors' Pick "In my reckless and undiscouraged youth," Lillian Boxfish writes, "I worked in a walnut-paneled office thirteen floors above West Thirty-Fifth Street..." She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy's to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, "in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it." Now it's the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It's chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now--her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl--but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed--and has not. A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop. Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young"--… (more)
  1. 10
    The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick (pbirch01)
    pbirch01: Both primarily concern the joy and serendipity found when walking around a large city such as New York
  2. 00
    Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Othemts)
  3. 00
    Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (Othemts)
  4. 01
    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (Othemts)

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» See also 170 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
New York in the mid-1980s is the scene for this luminous novel. It is New Year’s Eve 1984, and eighty-five year old Lillian Boxfish sets out on a walk to her customary neighborhood restaurant for a 5 PM dinner. But having mindlessly eaten a package of Oreos while having a difficult telephone conversation with her son, she is not hungry, and adventure calls. Over the course of the evening, Lillian walks past many locations from her past, and a glorious past it was. She arrived in New York in 1926, and set about using her wit and persuasive powers to become the highest paid advertising woman in America. Lillian works for R. H. Macy, as the store used to be called, marries, has a child, experiences heartbreak and disaster, and through it all, she continues to love her New York. This novel is both a love letter to New York City, and a portrait of a woman who lived a remarkable life. I loved it. ( )
  rglossne | Jul 1, 2020 |
I have nothing important to add to the conversation about this book except to say that I loved Lillian enough to re-read this book (a thing I consciously avoid doing, too old to waste the eyeblinks when there are literally dozens of new books every week that I want to read). I am living the "ancient Chinese curse" (that's nothing of the sort) often translated as "May you live in interesting times," among other formulations. I was old enough to have my dinner ruined by Vietnam War body counts intoned gravely by Uncle Walter on the CBS Evening News. The inner-city uprisings in Newark, Detroit, Oakland, Watts..."Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"...and now the next skirmish in the unfinished US Civil War as my last full decade on Earth unfolds.

I needed Lillian's mentions of The Strand and her gentleman callers and R. H. Macy's and how much she hated admitting when her mother was right. I needed her to walk for me down streets I once loved so immoderately, wearing her deeply unfashionable top-quality mink as a slew of men I loved were dying in St. Vincent's (I was probably in one of their rooms at the time she was walking!), and to feel the full weight of memory. Sometimes it's death by crushing, sometimes a warm comforter on a cold, windy night.

So thank you, Author Rooney. I needed this story to help me see that the only way out is through, to face the storm like Lillian always did, and feel the lovely ache of days gone by but never disappeared. ( )
  richardderus | Jun 2, 2020 |
A nice pleasant book about a woman who succeeds in advertising and as a poet. ( )
  kayanelson | May 6, 2020 |
I like Lillian Boxfish and her walk. She's the archetype which I've long admired - takes care of herself, values her friends and fun, is aware of what she isn't, but is alert and flexible enough to follow passion, and eventually resilient enough to survive washing up on passion's shore. And keep on walking. And thanks for the flâneurie! ( )
  quondame | Apr 24, 2020 |
I enjoyed this New Year's Eve walk in 1984 with Lillian Boxfish as she traveled one end of Manhattan to the other and along the way detailed many of the experiences of her very very full life. It's hard to believe all the people she interacted with in just one night. Her adventures as an advertising copywriter in the 30s for Macy's, her experiences as a published poet, her marriage and subsequent divorce from the man of her dreams, being forced from her job as a married woman because she is expecting a child, her experiences fighting off severe depression.....Lillian really has seen it all. And after this very full life she caps it off with this meandering walk through the city she loves.

I expected this to be a light read but it's not really that because Lillian's life is not without its challenges. Like the city she travels, her life is one of change and I was glad to tag along with her. ( )
1 vote brenzi | Dec 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Today, Chicago has its own literary flâneuse, Kathleen Rooney. Her new novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, is about an elderly woman who walks from midtown to downtown Manhattan and back on New Year’s Eve, 1984. But Lillian Boxfish isnt just any elderly woman, she’s a fictional version of Margaret Fishback, the real-life female Don Draper of 1940s advertising and an accomplished poet. And Rooney isn’t just any writer: she walks hundreds of miles every year, exploring cities on foot.

The book bounces around the 20th century and tackles themes of work, time, motherhood, and what it means to be truly in love with a city. It’s one of my all-time favorite New York novels, right up there with Winter’s Tale, Invisible Man, and The Golem and the Jinni. I recently spoke with Rooney about walking, writing, Fishback, New York, and Chicago.

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kathleen Rooneyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sands, XeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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