Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney: Book Review

lillian boxfish takes a walk kathleen rooney book reviewSt. Martin's Press / SMITH Magazine
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk Book Cover Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney
Adult Fiction
St. Martin's Press
January 17th 2017

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.

Kathleen Rooney creates one of the most authentic characters you’ll ever meet in the ever-changing world of New York City with Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

Taking place throughout the decades, this novel will give you a comprehensive yet intimate look into the life of Lillian Boxfish, a woman who will most likely be your next favorite fictional hero. As an emblem of girl power, Lillian broke boundaries by becoming the highest-paid woman in the advertising industry.

With her candid nature, unparalleled fearlessness, and a sneaky sense of humor, Lillian is one of those characters that truly comes to life. Though the adventures you are taken on throughout her eventful life never seem to stop with just this book alone, the main thing that encouraged me to keep turning the pages was Lillian’s compelling and unique voice. Her wit is immeasurable and her undiscriminating nature is refreshing. She is a loving mother who had always loathed the idea of motherhood, an unattached girl who falls intensely in love, and a working woman who ends up leaving her job. Her perspective is undoubtedly distinct.

As any avid reader knows, the same types of characters are constantly popping up in different books. These characters are about as interesting as a piece of cardboard and their personality is almost nonexistent. But Rooney achieved something amazing when she wrote Lillian Boxfish.

As for the plotline, it definitely deserves its own dose of recognition. To put it in the simplest terms, 85-year-old Lillian decides to go on a stroll around the city while New Year’s Eve celebrations are taking place. On this tour — which turns out to be quite the hike — she encounters people from all walks of life and manages to affect them all in positive ways. For example, she ends up reasoning with two young men who attempt to mug her on the street. Though they do end up taking her expensive fur coat, she suggests that one of the young men give her his athletic jacket as a sort of trade. Most people, especially an elderly woman, would never do something so risky. But Lillian isn’t afraid to be herself, and this makes quite an impression on these boys.

This novel contains many flashbacks that provide glimpses into her life throughout the decades. We witness her working her way up the corporate ladder in an era where women were not considered equals to men; there’s insight given into Lillian’s failed marriage and only beloved son; and finally, we observe our protagonist experience her biggest challenge yet: growing older and gradually out of fashion.

This book is almost constantly flipping through multiple periods of time, and though it can be slightly jarring, for the most part, it was easy to keep everything moving in a straight, deliberate path, as Lillian does throughout the novel. I personally love books that allow the reader to explore different sections of a character’s life because it makes me that much more invested in their past as well as their future.

The story is set in New York City, which, unsurprisingly, has been done before. But because of the passing of time that takes place, and Lillian’s dedication to this city that has become her home, the reader is able to gain an understanding of the evolution that NYC undergoes. Much in the way how neighborhoods and iconic places are always changing, Lillian’s being able to interpret these differences brings this novel to another level you didn’t realize it needed.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk; it was a real treat experiencing life through Lillian’s perspective, and the commentary Rooney offers surrounding women in the workplace, the inevitability of aging, and the changing landscape of New York City, among other observations, is executed very well. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a character with a fresh and distinct voice and doesn’t mind taking a trip through time.

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Alicia LeBoeuf
the authorAlicia LeBoeuf
Contributing Writer

I’m a college student pursuing an English major and Communication minor. I love everything book-related and I’m a passionate writer.