Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkSummary from

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.

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.

The Characters

My opinion of Lillian shifts depending on how I am viewing her.  If I analyze her for what she is, a character in a book, I love her.  She’s witty, tough, and independent.  However, if I met Lillian in real life, I probably would despise her.  You see hints at her judgmental nature throughout the book.  She’s the friend who claims you’re “boring” ever since you got married.  She’s the friend who gets mad at your for not spending enough time with her once you have kids.  Her interests are pretty selfish, and she sees other people’s pursuit of happiness as silly and unworthy, merely because they chose a different version of happiness than her.  By the end of the book, I was unsure of my feelings toward Lillian.  I’m still unsure.  Did I like her or not?  I can’t tell.

My What I Liked About the Book

I’m journalist/public relations specialist by trade, so I LOVED reading a book centered around the emergence of advertising.  The ad copy was so eloquent, so poetic, and SO unlikely what we could use today to appeal to the masses.  This started a whole new dialogue in my head about changes in educational standards in America, which I’m not going to get into here.  I’m also a sucker for a good success story, and Lillian fit the bill.  Through hard work and talent, she rose up through the ranks and established herself as one of the most recognized advertisers in the nation.  Reading the struggles she faced due to her gender made me appreciative for the women’s rights trailblazers that set the stage for freedoms we appreciate today.  Despite my complaints about her character, I also have to admire Lillian’s acceptance of people.  While she could scoff at traditional lifestyles, she took the time out to get to know everyone around her.  In a modern nation filled with people who are financially blessed but relationally poor, we need more Lillians of the world to spread love to the unloved & unnoticed among us.

What I Didn’t Like About the Book

I love books that discuss women’s issues, especially ones that help me understand perspectives that are not my own.  However, ONE topic will make me hop on the nearest soapbox and rant— the flawed perspective that “women can have it all”  — they can have a perfect home, a perfect family, a highly successful, lucrative career, and still have time hang out with friends, read the latest books, and go get a pedicure once a week.  The truth is, women CANNOT achieve absolute perfection in all of those areas, but most us FEEL like we should.  I truly feel like this has been such a disservice to women and has spurred so much anxiety in the modern age.

My second frustration concern Lillian’s character in light of her working status.  As someone who regularly transitions between working mom, stay-at-home mom, and work-from-home mom, I see value in all choices.  That is why this book left such a sour taste in my mouth.  Lillian was beautiful and witty when she was at work, achieving outside the home.  As soon as she stayed home, she crumpled into a shadow of her former self until she attempted suicide.  Maybe the author’s intention was merely to point out that being a stay-at-home-mom was not in Lillian’s nature, but I can’t help but feel like the narrative was working=good, SAHM=bad.  Part of women’s rights is for women to choose what is right for them.  That means if a woman wants to trailblazer like Lillian and burst through the glass ceiling, fantastic!  BUT, if a woman WANTS to stay home and be a mom to her kids, that should be equally glorified.  Instead, the author portrayed the later as silly and unenlightened.  It’s for this reason that I feel as though other women tend to be your toughest critics.

Would I recommend this book?

Soap boxes aside, it took me a while to get into the story because it was very slow-moving. Lillian’s poetic language often got in the way of the pace of the book, as did the ramblings between the introduction of characters on her walk.  For that reason and those stated above, I don’t think I would recommend it unless it seemed tailored to the person’s personality.  If you are young, single trailblazers starting off in your career, it might be inspiration. If you’re like me, a happy wife and mother that is working, but counts down the seconds until you can go home and hug your kids, you might not be as inclined to like it.  3 / 5 stars.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk Review Box


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