Book Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney


Welcome to Manhattan! This is a much different city than the one you have visited and the streets are cold, hard, and a bit grittier. It is December 31, 1984 and you are accompanying [dare I say it... an elderly] Lillian Boxfish as she takes a long, long walk around the city ending with an astonishing 10.4 miles journeyed. At 85 years old, Lillian Boxfish is witty and wise of the city streets taking life a mere step at a time recounting her advertising stint at Macy's, her complicated love life, and the history of a city that comforts Lillian but troubles others. Lillian Boxfish is the ultimate protagonist clinging to memories and continuing to eke out her place in an ever-changing Manhattan.

Kathleen Rooney's novel is nothing short of an adventure, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading her book. As an avowed admirer of the modernist movement in literature and history, I appreciated the way Rooney infused historical attributes of Manhattan within Lillian Boxfish's life. Furthermore, I was surprised to find that the book was even more historical than I initially understood with its reflection on Margaret Fishback's life and career.

Lillian's love of the city is palpable, and at times, readers are left shaking their heads at how brave the 85-year-old protagonist is as she travels the city alone, close to midnight, in the frigid cold, and in the lower and dangerous parts of Manhattan. I caught myself worrying for her and begging her to take the offered rides from seemingly trustworthy secondary characters in the book. I didn't think she would make it back to her apartment given the plot of the subway vigilante whose mention seems to haunt the text when Lillian meets each new character in the novel. By the end of the story, the vigilante becomes a reminder of Lillian's absence of fear and her hopes that Manhattan will finally gain its light and luster. I could only imagine what Boxfish would say of today's cleaned-up version of her home city.

The flashbacks appearing throughout the text happen at key moments leaving the reader with a deeper and darker understanding of Boxfish's life. Perhaps the most tragic of these pertains to her failed marriage and divorce which leaves Boxfish broken and depressed. At times, I wondered how "the walk" would end because of the recollection of the breakdowns Lillian experienced after her divorce and her ultimately dismal outlook on life. However, the city plays a comforting role for Lillian and nurses her back to health as she walks. Even a pseudo-mugging situation seems to bring Lillian back to life giving her a joie de vivre that wasn't seen throughout the entire book.

This book was good. It provides readers with a catharsis that can be appreciated after the experience has ended. I appreciate the literary connections and inspiration from Fishback's life and career, and I plan to visit more of Fishback's work in response to enjoying this novel. I would recommend this novel to anyone who doesn't mind experiencing an emotional adventure in admiration of city life.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐




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