April 01, 2024

Table for Two

By Amor Towles
Review by
Amor Towles’ latest, Table for Two, is a masterful, subtle collection of thoroughly entertaining stories.
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You can learn a lot about someone by getting dinner with them. At a small table, in the glow of candlelight, you might find yourself connecting with a new acquaintance as if they were an old friend. In Table for Two, the new collection of stories from beloved novelist Amor Towles, that level of intimacy is reached and at times exceeded. Towles presents his protagonists with such a high degree of detail that readers will feel like they know the characters personally. While this is the hallmark of any good fiction, Towles elevates these stories further by setting them in complex political landscapes and amid moral quagmires. The result is a masterful, subtle collection of thoroughly entertaining stories.

One choice that distinguishes this collection is its geographical organization. Towles begins with six stories that take place in New York City. The first of these, “The Line,” actually opens in rural Russia, where our “hero,” Pushkin, lives an idyllic life. However, after the Bolshevik revolution, his wife, Irina, insists that they move to Moscow. From there, through many winding twists of fate, the couple ends up in New York City, far away from their feudal beginnings and their Communist awakenings. The five following stories take place in the New York of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, displaying the city at its wealthiest through characters trying to take some of that wealth for themselves. The second half of the book is a novella set in early 20th century Los Angeles, capturing a unique time in the city’s history when financial success coupled with an increasingly seedy underground laid the foundation for LA to become one of the largest, most diverse cities in the United States.

The most engaging, artful part of Table for Two, however, is the unique ability Towles has to approach his characters simultaneously through authorial intervention and through getting inside their heads. Frequently, Towles writes about the characters as though he and they know what is going to happen, or as though they know what the moral of their story is. Rather than spoiling the plot or coming off as heavy-handed, this technique allows readers to fully engage in the stories, pushing them to consider for themselves: What does success mean? What lengths would you go to for money? What does it mean to be happy with your life? Towles forces the reader and his characters to address these questions, and the answers you find in this book will move you.

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Table for Two

Table for Two

By Amor Towles
ISBN 9780593296370

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