On the frontispiece as you open Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, there is a map of Manhattan with a route through Midtown and Lower Manhattan marked out. The route has twelve stops, the stops of Lillian Boxfish’s walk on December 31, 1984. She leaves her apartment on December 31, 1984 and arrives back home on January 1, 1985. Her walk takes her from Grimaldi’s Restaurant, where she was supposed to have dinner, to Delmonico’s, where she did have dinner and past Macy’s Department Store, where she had worked for decades eventually to become the highest paid advertising woman in America.
The author, Kathleen Rooney, used as her inspiration for Lillian Boxfish a woman named Margaret Fishback, who was, in fact, the highest paid advertising copywriter and who did work for Macy’s Department Store.
As Lillian walks we hear the story of her life from when she arrived in New York City until the evening of her walk. Not only do we learn about the geographic changes in Manhattan over sixty years, we also are a witness to how the archeology of Lillian’s mind changed. We observe her first exploits in New York as a confident young woman. We listen as she reflects on her marriage, and divorce. We follow her through her treatments for depression, including hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy. By December 31, 1984, Lillian’s confidence has returned. On the stops of her journey, she converses with a bartender, joins strangers for dinner at Delmonico’s, hangs out a party with twentysomethings and makes a deal with muggers.
I found Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk on a summer reading list, though the setting is a wintry Manhattan evening. Reading about Lillian and Manhattan was like having a few days in the city, walking. This book evoked memories of perfect weekends in New York City, but gave me a perfect few evenings in my backyard.
(Note: I read the January 2017 St. Martin’s Press First Edition of this book.)