14 reviews

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk: A Novel
by Kathleen Rooney

Published: 2017-01-17
Hardcover : 304 pages
22 members reading this now
65 clubs reading this now
12 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 13 of 14 members


“Transporting…witty, poignant and sparkling.”
?People (People Picks Book of the Week)

“Prescient and quick....A perfect fusing of subject and writer, idea and ideal.”
?Chicago Tribune

“Extraordinary…hilarious…Elegantly written, Rooney creates a ...

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“Transporting…witty, poignant and sparkling.”
?People (People Picks Book of the Week)

“Prescient and quick....A perfect fusing of subject and writer, idea and ideal.”
?Chicago Tribune

“Extraordinary…hilarious…Elegantly written, Rooney creates a glorious paean to a distant literary life and time?and an unabashed celebration of human connections that bridge past and future.
?Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)

"Rooney's delectably theatrical fictionalization is laced with strands of tart poetry and emulates the dark sparkle of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Truman Capote. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney’s nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor."
?Booklist (starred review)

“In my reckless and undiscouraged youth,” Lillian Boxfish writes, “I worked in a walnut-paneled office thirteen floors above West Thirty-Fifth Street…”

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now?her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl?but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed?and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, 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.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: This is a novel about an 85 year-old woman who wends her way to a party. I may have lost you already, but Kathleen Rooney and her delightful Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will not. Turns out, Ms. Boxfish is a fascinating woman who has led a fascinating life, the details of which she teases out before bidding adieu to the year 1984. One of the most talented and successful ad women for R.H. Macy’s in the 1930s (the character is based on real-life ad woman and author, Margaret Fishback), Ms. Boxfish was once the toast of New York. She reminisces about the time she asked her boss to pay her the same as her less accomplished male counterparts. Seeing as though that’s a battle still being fought today, you can guess how that went, but this incident hints at the kind of woman our feisty flâneuse is. You will learn more about Lillian’s life as a “Mad Woman,” and the one she didn’t anticipate as a wife and mother...Her story takes a dark turn or two as well, and you will root for her as she responds with her signature wit and mettle.

There are beloved works in the canon of great literature featuring famous walkers (James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway immediately come to mind). One of the joys in reading them is the motley cast of characters our heroes and heroines encounter along the way, and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is no exception. Whether it’s a bartender, a bodega employee, or a group of thugs, Lillian confronts them with the same infectious curiosity, compassion, and pluck. It’s a testament to Rooney’s writing chops that you’ll want to walk with Lillian as she ponders, all the while paying homage to New York in its gritty glory. --Erin Kodicek, The Amazon Book Review



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. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. How do Lillian's feelings regarding her mother compare to her feelings regarding her Aunt Sadie Boxfish? 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 significant 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 empathy and even to democracy?

6. How do Lillian’s achievements and struggles at the office at Macy’s—with her boss, Chester; with getting paid as much as her male colleagues; with her friend and rival coworkers, Helen McGoldrick and Olive Dodd—relate to the workplace as we know it today?

7. Why does Artie, Lillian’s editor, want to change the title of her debut poetry collection from Oh, Do Not
Ask for Promises to Frequent Wishing on the Gracious Moon? And why does she refuse? Do you think he was right or wrong, and were you pleased or disappointed when she said no? Explain why.

9. Why is Lillian ambivalent toward motherhood, and how does her friendship with Wendy differ from her relationship with her son Gian?

10. Why, after scoffing at love and convention for so long, does Lillian fall so hard for Max? What is it about Max that she finds so irresistible?

11. Were you surprised by all the chance encounters that Lillian has with different people on her walk through the city? Why or why not? Do you also like to strike up conversations with strangers? Why or why not?

12. How worried, if at all, did you feel about Lillian as she made her way across Manhattan? Were you troubled by any of her encounters? Heartened? Both? Which ones and why?

13. Lillian can’t stand the new and ugly Penn Station, built in 1968, that replaced the old and beautiful original— are there structures in your past that were torn down that you miss, too? Describe.

8. In what ways does walking in the city feed Lillian’s poetry, her advertising work, and her curiosity? How does her relationship to walking change over time, as both she and her city get older?

Suggested by Members

Have you ever met a stranger and been able to strike up a conversation the way Lillian could?
by drbeth (see profile) 05/07/17

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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by Cindy D. (see profile) 10/10/20

by Cornelia C. (see profile) 02/24/20

by Kris S. (see profile) 10/27/19

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by denise w. (see profile) 06/26/19

by Marilyn D. (see profile) 03/06/18

by Gail G. (see profile) 01/26/18

  "What a Walk!!!"by liz p. (see profile) 01/09/18

Lillian is 85 years old and it is New Year's Eve 1984. As a young woman she moved from Washington D.C. to NYC and was able to secure a job writing advertisements for R.H. Macy, eventually b... (read more)

by Lynda W. (see profile) 12/27/17

Fun book and story. Very well written. Reminds me of “A Man Called Ove””

by Anne A. (see profile) 12/12/17

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