In this delightful first person-narrative, the octogenarian Lillian Boxfish celebrates New Year’s Eve 1984 in New York City goes to a bar, dines out at Delmonico’s, drops in at a party of a pair of young artists, and faces down some potential muggers. Lillian walks everywhere she goes amid the decay of 1980s Manhattan with the then current Subway Vigilante story a repeated warning of New York hitting bottom. But Lillian’s charm and curiosity means that she consistently is meeting and engaging with ordinary people in meaningful conversations – bartenders, clerks, security guards, drivers, a mother-to-be going into labor, and yes, even would-be muggers. Despite the city’s flaws, she despises the suburbs, Lillian admires the city’s energy and the opportunity to take her walks.
Along her walk, Lillian reflects upon her life in New York, starting in the 1930s when she became a successful writer of advertising for R.H. Macy and a poet. Eventually she marries and has a child, but the loss of her career and a troubled marriage lead to depression. These autobiographical details are sprinkled well throughout Lillian’s walk and experiences. For audiobook listeners, Xe Sands is terrific in capturing Lillian’s whimsical and thoughtful voice.
This book is a tribute to New York set at a transitional time that reflects on the city’s golden past and emerging future. It’s also a portrait of a fascinating woman who may be ahead of her time, but I think Lillian Boxfish would say she was right on time. Better yet, the novel is inspired by a real life person, Margaret Fishback.
“…the suburbs had always seemed mealy and unresolved. I understood that their in-between-ness — neither town nor country! — was supposed to be their very appeal, but I didn’t find it appealing. I always wanted either to be in, or get away from the city, not just be close to the city. Were I off in the pastoral hills shingling my own roof or riding a horse, well then, what fun. And were I catching a subway for a night at the opera, well then, hooray. But in the suburbs I could enjoy none of those pursuits with ease.” – p. 185
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
- Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan