Do you want to read more about New York City in the hectic, glittering era of Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley? Then you can’t do better than Kathleen Rooney’s debut novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.
The story is narrated by Lillian Boxfish, age 85 (depending on whether she’s lying about her age), who is spending New Year’s Eve of 1984 on the one activity that still sparks joy for her… walking on the sidewalks of Manhattan. She has several goals in mind as she strolls through the city, and many are vintage New York institutions, such as Delmonico’s Restaurant and Macy’s Department Store. Lillian looks back on her younger self, especially her career in advertising and as a poet, in a poignant way and her interactions with contemporary New Yorkers are fresh and engaging. The combination makes an arresting story.
Since Lillian was a popular poet in the early decades of the twentieth century, examples of light verse appear throughout the novel, for an extra touch of wit and wordsmithery. Lillian is based on real-life poet Margaret Fishback, and I was inspired by this novel to learn more about Fishback.
I adored the voice of this strong, smart, funny woman. If you like historical fiction centered on strong women characters, this one is for you!
Rooney’s most recent novel is called Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, and it’s narrated by a taxidermied pigeon that is on display at the Smithsonian Museum in D.C. No joke. If you want to learn more about carrier pigeons and their role in World War I, try this one out!
Other historical fiction set in New York City includes:
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
A Deadly Fortune by Stacey Murphy
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine