64 pages 2 hours read

Amor Towles

Table for Two: Fictions

Fiction | Short Story Collection | Adult | Published in 2024

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Table for Two is a collection of six short stories and a novella by critically acclaimed, best-selling novelist, Amor Towles. Though the six stories are seemingly unconnected, Towles explains that in “most of the pieces, a critical moment involved a pair of family members or strangers facing each other across a kitchen table to confront some new reality in their lives” (“Table for Two: About the Book.” Amor Towles).

Table for Two is a work of historical fiction, depicting the experiences of Americans in post-revolutionary Russia, turn-of-the-millennium New York City, and 1930s Los Angeles. They do not share characters, but they share common themes and motifs, such as Attaining and Experiencing Happiness, Power, Money, and the Individual, and Following and Subverting Social Expectations through a variety of characters across different times and locations in the US.

Towles was an investment banker before becoming an author. Table for Two is Towles’s fourth published work; his previous novels are Rules of Civility (2011), followed by A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), and The Lincoln Highway (2021). One of the stories in this collection, “Eve in Hollywood,” is a spin-off from Rules of Civility.

This guide uses the Viking Kindle edition of the text, published in 2024.

Content Warning: The collection addresses drug and alcohol abuse and portrays discriminatory views of women and gay men.

Plot Summary

“The Line” follows Irina and Pushkin, Russian farmers in 1916, as Pushkin gets swept to Moscow by Irina’s fierce dedication to the Bolshevik cause. In Moscow, Irina thrives on work and involvement in Russian industry and local politics, while Pushkin struggles to maintain a job. Pushkin becomes popular by waiting in line for other people, which starts out as a favor that earns gifts, and then develops into a business. Through happenstance, Pushkin finds himself applying for a visa to leave Russia in the late 1920s, though he does not want to leave. The only place Pushkin can think to go is New York City; he is surprised to find Irina excited to join him. In New York City, Irina quickly finds a new job and community, while Pushkin waits in line at a soup kitchen, much as he did in Moscow.

“The Ballad of Timothy Touchett” details the downfall of an aspiring writer who distracts himself by studying the craft of famous authors. Pennybrook, a rare bookseller, convinces Timothy to begin forging signatures on first editions, at which Timothy excels. As Timothy’s wealth grows, Pennybrook pushes Timothy to sign more and more recent works, including novels by Paul Auster, a real living author. When Auster discovers the con, he alerts the police. The police arrest Pennybrook, who in turn blames Timothy for everything.

“Hasta Luego” takes place in and around an airport. Jerry’s flight home to Washington, DC, is delayed by weather. Smitty’s flight is also delayed, but Smitty’s boisterous and friendly personality draws everyone to him, improving the moods of everyone he meets, including Jerry. Smitty and Jerry go to the same hotel, where they drink heavily with other people whose flights are delayed. Accidentally swapping phones with Smitty, Jerry finds himself on the phone with Smitty’s wife, who explains that Smitty has an alcohol abuse disorder, leading Jerry to monitor Smitty closely, ensuring he stops drinking, sleeps, and gets to his plane on time. Though Jerry is inconvenienced by these tasks, he hopes his own wife would fight for him, as well.

In “I Will Survive,” Nell investigates whether her stepfather, John, is having an affair. Nell’s mother, Peggy, at first suspects John, but even after Peggy changes her mind, Nell follows John anyway, only to discover him roller-skating in Central Park. Though Nell is amused by John’s skating, Peggy is disturbed. The marriage begins to deteriorate. When John tells Nell’s husband, Jeremy, how much true joy he derives from skating, Jeremy realizes that Peggy is upset to be excluded from John’s happiest moments.

In “The Bootlegger,” Mary’s husband, Tommy, becomes increasingly upset by Mr. Fein, an older man who appears to be recording a prestigious series of performances at Carnegie Hall. Tommy is so disturbed by Mr. Fein that he reports him. After getting Mr. Fein banned from Carnegie Hall, Tommy tracks him down to apologize, but Mr. Fein thanks Tommy, as recording performances was the last vestige of Mr. Fein’s grief over his wife’s death. However, Mr. Fein’s daughter, Meredith, does not forgive Tommy, cursing him to always feel guilty about his actions. Mary reveals that she kept Mr. Fein’s last recording, and she laments that she can never share it with Tommy.

“The DiDomenico Fragment” details the attempts by Skinner to convince his cousin, Peter, to sell a fragment of DiDomenico’s 15th-century painting “Annunciation” to a collector. Skinner’s family has traditionally passed down fragments of the work, splitting them evenly between the children of each branch of the family. Peter’s son, Lucas, loves the painting, but his wife, Sharon, hates it. Skinner infiltrates Peter’s family, convincing each member of the family to sell the painting, only to have the collector swoop in at the last minute to secure the sale himself, excluding Skinner from the finder’s fee. Though Skinner remains financially insecure at the end of the story, he spends more time with his family moving forward.

“Eve in Hollywood” is a novella featuring Evelyn “Eve” Ross, a character from Towles’s 2011 novel, Rules of Civility. Eve makes the last-minute decision to go to Los Angeles, where she meets former homicide detective Charlie, has-been actor Prentice, famous starlet Olivia, and Marcus, a lawyer for Selznick International Pictures. Eve stays at the Beverly Hills Hotel, from which she visits various locations around Los Angeles with the hotel driver, Billy. When nude photos of Olivia and other actresses surface, along with the threat of blackmail, Eve enlists Charlie and Prentice to help her track down the blackmailers. However, their plan to secure the photos is interrupted by Finnegan, the head of security at the Beverly Hills Hotel, who kills the blackmailers and takes the photos for himself. Eve finds Finnegan, drugs him, and, with Charlie’s help, frames Finnegan and secures the photos. In the end, Eve gives the pictures, cropped to remove the nudity, to the film studios. 

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