Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk Summary

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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is a 2017 historical novel by Kathleen Rooney. The story is loosely based on the life of the American writer Margaret Fishback who published well-received poems and short stories from the 1920s until the 1960s.

Lillian Boxfish admires her aunt Sadie, an independent woman with a successful career in New York City. However, Lillian’s mother disapproves of Sadie because she does not lead a conventional life. When Lillian is older and beginning to break into advertising, she models her ad copy off short poems Sadie used to include in the letters she wrote home.

In 1931, Lillian is the highest-paid female copywriter in New York. However, the male copywriters at her level still make more than her. Lillian schedules an appointment with her boss Chester Everett to ask for a raise. Chester explains that the men have to pay for their families while Lillian is single, which is why she is paid less. Another woman who works at the agency, Olive, sides with Chester.

Lillian believes that Olive writes inferior copy, but she has to temper her criticism of Olive’s work. She has a strong dislike of silly wordplay in ads, much preferring her own sophisticated and lyrical style of writing.

Oh, Do Not Ask for Promises is Lillian’s first book of poems, published in 1931. She writes many of her poems on her lunch break from work. On the same day that she is denied a raise, Lillian visits her literary agent. The agent suggests that Lillian change the title of her collection to something more upbeat, but Lillian refuses angrily. The book goes on to be a major success and is republished four times. At work, Chester asks her if she might be oversupplying her admirers with too much writing, but Lillian dismisses him.

The novel then flashes back to the 1920s when Lillian was still struggling to make it. She lives at the Christian Women’s Hotel with two roommates: her best friend Helen, and Ginny. The girls take odd jobs to make money, but must tell the head of the boarding house that they are donating the money to charity. Helen and Ginny both have boyfriends who they do not want to marry, though they enjoy having sex with them.

Helen and Lillian get jobs at a department store and are finally able to rent an apartment of their own. Helen breaks up with her boyfriend, who assumes she will come back to him, but Helen does not. The young women enjoy the freedom that New York City offers them, which they know they would not have in other places.

In 1933, Lillian throws a party at her elegant apartment. She invites Olive, who drinks and behaves badly. Helen and her husband Dwight are not in attendance because they have just had their first child. Olive and Lillian argue about living in the city versus living in the suburbs where Olive has recently moved. Lillian insists she will never leave New York City.

Later that year, Lillian meets a rug salesman named Max and falls in love with him. They marry soon after, much to the amusement of people who are familiar with Lillian’s poetry and her skepticism about true love. Lillian wonders if she has made the right decision marrying Max.

In 1942, Lillian finally gets pregnant after a series of miscarriages. She has to leave her job because the agency does not offer maternity leave, but Chester promises he will send her freelance work. Max enlists in World War II soon after their son is born and is gone for three years. When he returns, he begins working for the government and is often away. Lillian loves her son, but she does not feel comfortable in her role as a mother. Max attempts to get Lillian to move to the suburbs, but after a couple of unhappy months, the couple moves back to the city.

Eventually, Lillian learns that Max is cheating on her. She attempts suicide and is committed to a sanitarium. When she recovers, Lillian is embarrassed and feels that she has become everything she always hated.

Lillian does not return to advertising. Many years later, in the 1980s, she is invited to appear on a public access program with two young, modern copywriters. The younger women make fun of Lillian’s style and she leaves the studio in embarrassment. Walking home through the city still comforts her, but she no longer runs into people she knows like she used to.

A young woman named Wendy meets Lillian in the park and invites her to a New Year’s Eve party. Lillian goes, but soon feels foolish and outdated, so she returns home to spend New Year’s Eve with her cat. Though she feels belittled and ignored because of her age, Lillian is confident that she still lives in a way that is true to herself.