Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Written by Kathleen Rooney
Review by Juliet Waldron

In the style of a first-person memoir, this is actually a fictionalized riff by the author upon the eventful life of an actual person—Margaret Fishback, who was in the ´30s and ´40s “a poet, a proto-feminist,” a successful advertising woman and a mother. From the author’s end notes, I learned that Ms. Fishback’s papers, now housed at Duke University, were the inspiration. In this irresistible novel which spans six decades, the Lillian of the title arrives in New York City in the 1920s fresh out of college, uniquely determined to find a career instead of a husband. Her talent for verse, coupled with a lively wit, lands her a job as a copywriter at R. H. Macy. Hard work, creativity, and an instinctive understanding of human nature do the rest, although she can’t persuade her boss to pay her the same as her less-talented male fellow workers.

As the story begins, however, we are in the final hours of 1984. Now living alone, Lillian’s thoughts travel restlessly back and forth between present and past. She sets out on a marathon New Year’s Eve walk around her beloved city. Everyone she meets—whether kind, rude, generous, or downright menacing—encounters her unfailing civility and savvy. Language is not only Lillian’s bread and butter, but it is her sword and buckler, too, in this paean to the value of human connections. I unreservedly loved this book.