Summary and book reviews of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney X
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 304 pages

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Book Summary

A love letter to city life, however shiny or sleazy, 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.

It's the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.

As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be - in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America - a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.

1

The Road of Anthracite

 

There once was a girl named Phoebe Snow. She wore only white and held tight to a violet corsage, an emblem of modesty. She was not retiring, though, and her life spun out as a series of journeys through mountain tunnels carved from poetry. I never saw her doing anything besides boarding, riding, or disembarking a train, immaculate always, captivating conductors, enchanting other passengers.

No, there wasn't. She was just an advertisement: the poster girl for the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. Her unsoilable Antarctic-colored clothes were proof that the line's anthracite-powered locomotives were clean-burning, truly—unlike their sooty and outfit-despoiling competitors:

Her laundry bill for fluff and frill

Miss Phoebe finds is nearly nil.

It's always light, though gowns of white,

Are worn on Road of Anthracite.

*   *   *

I was five years old when I first laid eyes on her, on a postcard sent me by my ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
1. How do Lillian's feelings regarding her mother compare to her feelings regarding her Aunt Sadie Box sh? And how do these relationships shape Lillian's ambitions and sense of self?

2. What initially attracts Lillian to poetry and how does it remain signi cant throughout her life and career, in advertising and otherwise?

3. Why are Lillian and her son Gian's reactions to the Subway Vigilante and his crime so different? Why does Lillian love New York City unconditionally whereas Gian has come to fear it?

4. Have you ever loved a city or a place so much that you never wanted to leave it? Describe, saying where and why, or why not.

5. Why are manners and kindness so important to Lillian? How does civility relate to ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Feminist, intelligent, independent, creative, authentic, a woman attempting to balance career and family during a time when it was next to impossible. Lilian is a woman you want to be, hope to be, dare to be, her rawness, brutal honesty and ownership are mesmerizing.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (642 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
There is plenty of charm and occasional poignance here even if the novel makes you long for a proper biography of the real woman who inspired it.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Elegantly written, Rooney creates a glorious paean to a distant literary life and time - and an unabashed celebration of human connections that bridge the past and future.

Booklist
Starred Review. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney's nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Rooney (O, Democracy!) takes us on a delightful stroll with a colorful character, inspired by the life of poet and ad woman Margaret Fishback, sprinkling just the right details and arch bons mots appropriate to Lillian's reputation as a woman of words.

Author Blurb Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank With Me
There is a little of Lillian Boxfish in all of us. And if there isn't, there ought to be.

Author Blurb Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up and We Are Pirates
Easily the best gadding-around-town novel since Dawn Powell and Dorothy Parker.

Reader Reviews

Davida Chazan

A Life in Steps
This book made it to my "top 5 of 2017" list, and is certainly my favorite type of fiction (although usually this happens more with historical fiction, and less with contemporary fiction - of which this is essentially both), shining a light...   Read More

sue

Lillian Boxfish takes a Walk
Lillian is a delightful, insightful octogenarian who walks her hometown (New York City) on New Year's Eve and encounters the good, the bad and the ugly with the opened mind that only a person of much life experience can do. The author's use of adroit...   Read More

Linda

Kathleen Rooney took me for a walk
Within the first few pages, I needed to highlight a sentence Ms. Rooney coined. Her writing was breathtaking and her choice of character was impeccable. I have been recommending this book to everyone. Even non-bibliophiles. I know this is a book that...   Read More

Diane D. (Blairstown, NJ)

Seemed so Real!
This was a good book! I wanted to read it, because my cousin lives in the area Lillian started out in, but I never expected it to feel as if I were reading about a real person's life. It DID feel that way to me, and I felt as if I were walking ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Margaret Fishback

The titular character of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is modeled after real-life ad copywriter and poet, Margaret Fishback.

Margaret Fishback In a detailed biography of Fishback at the Poetry Foundation, Lillian Boxfish author Kathleen Rooney offers us a fascinating glimpse of a woman who was far ahead of her time, taking to print to declare that she didn't need a husband to support her. Starting out as a school teacher, Fishback took on a job at the lower rungs of copywriting at the prestigious department store R. H. Macy's (today referred to simply as Macy's) but quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming chief copywriter. She was a highly paid woman in the advertising world of the 1930s, a time when the Great Depression firmly had its ...

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