Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, Kathleen Rooney, author; Xe Sands, narrator
Lilllian Boxfish certainly marched to the beat of a different drummer. She worked for R. H. Macy’s and wrote ad copy for them. She also achieved success writing poetry and limericks. Although she was single-minded and independent, disavowing her need for a husband, she eventually was smitten and married. That marriage produced one child and abruptly ended her promising career at Macy's.
She was born in 1899 and lived for 85 years, most of which she lived alone. When the problems of her life became too hard to handle, she took to drinking and eventually had a breakdown from which she recovered.
The novel takes place over a period of one day in which she is walking about 10 miles around New York City. As she walks, she reminisces about the success and failures of her past from the mid 1920’s until the mid 1980’s. She seemed to be a forerunner of the modern day women’s libber. She wanted parity with men in pay and responsibility and she achieved a great deal of her desires. She also encounters many people and engages them in conversations. In this manner, her life, and as a byproduct, the history of New York City is revealed. Many momentous topics were introduced like Prohibition, the sinking of the Titanic, World War II, the Spanish Flu epidemic, the Depression, the introduction of television, the Subway Vigilante, Bernhard Goetz; the building of the Twin Towers, the Aids epidemic, the Viet Nam War as she passed several famous restaurants and parks and engaged in conversations with strangers that she encountered. These subjects were not developed in detail, however. The charming New York City neighborhoods of Murray Hill and Greenwich Village with their parks and stores, and the Connecticut neighborhood of Greenwich were also mentioned, some to a greater extent than others, like Murray Hill, and they were very nostalgic moments for me since they were very much a part of my life, as well.
I didn’t always agree with Lillian Boxfish’s views, since she seemed to always side with the underdog and often disregarded the effect those underdogs, sometimes thugs and criminals, had on their victims.
I didn’t care for the way in which the narrator presented Lillian. She seemed almost disinterested, too matter of fact, and yet too sultry at times, as well, not exactly the type of personality I envisioned for the character who was strong and unconventional, more of a trailblazer and trendsetter in her day; yet the voice was more of a shrinking violet, to me.
Because this book was pitched as similar to “A Man Called Ove”, I expected to really enjoy reading it. While it was humorous, it was also heavy-handed and cloying at times with regard to an obvious effort on the part of the author to promote a liberal agenda. This detracted from my overall pleasure.
I did not know until the end of the audio, when the author and the narrator have a very informal interview, that the book was based on the life of Margaret Fishback. She was the highest paid female advertising copywriter, in the 1930’s, a time when few women even worked and when the country was reeling from the Depression. The poems and ads featured in the book were written by her.