Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk - Kathleen Rooney

An 85-year old woman walks through New York City on New Year’s Eve in the 1980s. As she walks, she reflects on her life. Comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry are inevitable. If you like one, you’ll quite likely like the other.

It’s a straightforward book, but what I got out of it most were two things. First, Lillian is a woman who valued her career more than family (in a way) at a time when that was an incredibly unfashionable thing to do. Her story is captured with all the nuance and conflict and anxiety that making such choices would bring upon someone in that era with more nuance and grey shading than the usual corporate-boss/ stay-at-home-mom tropes conjure up. 

Second, as you learn more about Lillian, this becomes an interesting book about identity and mental health. It sneaks up on you. But then it’s there. And it captures that notion that all city-walkers have that each person they pass may have a life of great depth and change hiding behind their eyes. It evokes a big city street, rather than simply describing one. 

Bonus points for some interesting insider knowledge of the history of advertising. I particularly enjoyed the scene when Lillian was asked to be part of a panel discussion, only to have her old work mocked by younger experts. The young experts, as they do, assume that those who came before them did what they did because they didn’t know how to do it “better”. Hadn’t yet discovered all the things that the young experts had discovered. They didn’t recognize that perhaps it was the right work for the right time and thus, brilliant work. They didn’t recognize that they only know what they know because others came before them. And Lillian’s response is fantastic.