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Table for Two: Fictions


Table for Two: Fictions

In every generation, new, brilliant authors rise to the surface and stun us with their creativity, beautiful prose and exquisite storytelling.

For today’s readers, Amor Towles is one such writer. He is a true craftsman, with a voice that captivates and tales that stay with you long after the reading has ended. A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW was a towering novel of delight, replete with quirky hotel patrons, a love affair, politics and even ghosts of sorts, plus one attractive count under house arrest. RULES OF CIVILITY and THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY evinced a similar mastery of language and tale telling.

Now, in TABLE FOR TWO, Towles offers six short stories and a novella that equally enthrall. Diverse characters play out compelling tales that draw us in and take our breath away in climactic moments that are often unforeseen. This table for two is a tale of two cities: the short stories are ultimately set in New York, and the novella takes place in Los Angeles.

"Amor Towles is a master of language and one of the best storytellers of our time. In TABLE FOR TWO, he lives up to his well-deserved reputation as a first-rate craftsman."

Here’s a sampling of the short fictions to whet your palate.

“The Line” reminds us that the grass is not always greener on the other side; sometimes it’s just as green. Pushkin, a perfectly Russian peasant, farms happily each day, until his wife Irina convinces him to move to Moscow to “lay the foundation of the future” for their country. A dutiful husband, he moves with her but fails to hold a job in the biscuit factory where she thrives.

Relegated to house duties, Pushkin stands in lines for bread, milk and other sundries day after day. And goodhearted man that he is, he begins to hold places in line for others, thereby filling his day with good conversation and small tokens of thanks to line his cupboard. One fateful day finds him in a visa line for someone who never shows, and his reward is a visa that takes them to New York.

In “The Ballad of Timothy Touchett,” Towles gives us an aspiring author who equips himself with all the right implements to set off on his writing journey, only to find himself spending hour after hour reading about the process employed by well-known, successful writers. In so doing, he wiles away time copying the signature of one, as he procrastinates actually taking pen to paper himself. And he realizes he has no stories to tell.

Touchett then meets Pennybrook, the owner of a bookshop, who offers him a job. Over time, we recognize that Pennybrook himself is a clever bard, making up tales of book lovers who crave signed copies of precious books. Touchett is persuaded to forge a signature or two, until he signs one too many.

The novella “Eve in Hollywood” takes us to Los Angeles, where we are reacquainted with Evelyn Ross, a character who vanished in RULES OF CIVILITY. (Being familiar with this earlier novel is not a prerequisite to reading “Eve in Hollywood.”) Plopped down in California, Eve becomes embroiled in the Hollywood scene, making friends with the likes of Olivia de Havilland. The backdrop is the filming of Gone With the Wind. Eve dons a P.I.’s hat in a search for stolen nude photographs of Olivia as morality and mortality themes draw us into 1930s Tinseltown.

“Eve in Hollywood” doesn’t rest on the laurels of Towles’ previous work but definitely steps up to sit with the best of noir stories throughout time. Despite being labeled a novella, it has the depth and the fleshed-out characters of longer novels.

Amor Towles is a master of language and one of the best storytellers of our time. In TABLE FOR TWO, he lives up to his well-deserved reputation as a first-rate craftsman.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on May 25, 2024

Table for Two: Fictions
by Amor Towles