'Boxfish' was my favorite book of 2017

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 12/29/17

I have a confession — I judge books by their cover.

Without this finely honed system based on snap judgments, I might never have read my favorite book of 2017.

I had so many questions about the title character of “Lillian Boxfish Takes a …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

'Boxfish' was my favorite book of 2017

Posted

I have a confession — I judge books by their cover.

Without this finely honed system based on snap judgments, I might never have read my favorite book of 2017.

I had so many questions about the title character of “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” the first time that the cover popped up on Libby, an app for library ebooks and audiobooks.

Where is she walking? Why is she alone? What does she hope to find on this walk?

The simple explanation is that Ms. Boxfish, 85, is walking through the streets of New York City on New Year’s Eve night in 1984.

She doesn’t intend to walk over 10 miles when she leaves her apartment clad in a mink coat and wearing her signature orange lipstick, which she has had stockpiled for years.

The night offers her several opportunities to turn back and crawl under the covers before the clock strikes midnight. Turning back would be quite out of character for her, however.

Though all of her friends have either died or moved away and crime is rampant, Boxfish stubbornly clings to the city that looms large in all of her memories.

“I love it here, this big rotten apple,” she says near the beginning of the novel.

Author Kathleen Rooney uses the Latin phrase “Solvitur ambulando” (“It is solved by walking”) to explore the various incarnations of Boxfish and NYC throughout the 20th century.

In a former life, Boxfish was the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world. (Margaret Fishback, the real woman upon whom Boxfish’s character is based, also held this distinction.)

The standards of the day dictated that her ad career end once she married and had a child. However, she continued to fuel her creativity by writing books of poetry.

When we are introduced to her, she is a woman of moderate means living alone in the city.

She enjoys taking daily walks and talking to strangers.

She disapproves of TVs in bars and cutesy ad catchphrases like “Where’s the beef?”

She is fascinated by break-dancing and rap music and undaunted by nightly news reports of murders and muggings.

She thinks the point of living is to stay interested, which makes it all the more painful when a young man dying of AIDS gives her the nickname Nancy Reagan.

He has assumed (incorrectly) because she is a privileged white woman of a certain age that she is out of touch with the times.

However, we know better once we have walked with her through literal and personal darkness.

Like Boxfish’s son, I worried that the streets she loved to traverse would ultimately be her undoing.

Every time a stranger offered her a ride or a friend invited her to stay for the evening, I silently pleaded with her to take herself out of harm’s way.

Ultimately, Lillian Boxfish’s walk is about the art of living, not dying.

The readers who join her on her journey will have a hard time forgetting her.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.