Table for Two: Fictions

This evocative short story collection (465 pages) was published in April of 2024 by Viking. The book takes you to New York City and Hollywood. Melissa read Table for Two and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Table for Two


Amor Towles

Sometimes a short story is like a piece of dark chocolate: You just kind of enjoy letting it sit on your tongue. Others render a whole world in miniature, picking up a plot thread mid-unraveling to see it through to the end. This delightful collection from Amor Towles includes both.

If you’re a fan of Towles’ previous novels Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, this collection of six short stories and a novella (which picks up where Rules of Civility left off) will feel like a gift.

The six stories, all set in New York during different time periods, celebrate the kind of old-school characters you only find in New York: a devoted theater-goer, a dusty rare books dealer, one of those guys who rollerskates to disco in Central Park. And the locations are a greatest hits tour of the city: Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, The Four Seasons, and wood-paneled social clubs.

Enjoyed together, the stories talk to each other, love letters to the serendipity, coincidence, and quirks of fate that bring together disparate people. The massive, bustling metropolis of New York City is simultaneously expanded and shrunken to a more human scale.

The first story — ‘The Line’ — begins in a Russian village during the last days of the Tsar and has a tone that leans toward the 19th century. The hero of this pastiche is Pushkin, a remarkably good-natured, friendly fellow who gently bumbles his way to good fortune simply by waiting in lines. It’s as if Kafka wrote a cheerful story.

Another called ‘The Ballad of Timothy Touchett’ begins at the New York Public Library:

‘A few years before the end of the millennium, one Timothy Touchett sat in the Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library’s Fifth Avenue Branch with a copy of Maxwell Perkin’s Collected Letters before him. What had brought this young man from the suburbs of Boston to such a majestic spot on a sunlit afternoon? Better yet, what had brought him to New York in the first place? Quite simply, his determination since childhood to become a celebrated novelist.’

Soon, Timothy has a momentous run-in with a gentleman named Peter Pennybrook, a purveyor of used and rare editions. He is the platonic ideal of a tweedy book dealer in New York City, and he tempts Timothy into an unexpected adventure.

The stories put Amor Towles’ ability to be tricksy on full display, routinely setting up expectations then turning the story into something else entirely.

A story called ‘Hasta Luego’ starts like a riff on the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, then pulls the rug out from under your feet. Another one called ‘I Will Survive’ delivers rom-com energy — all light and bubbly — before transforming into a story of a marriage’s demise (for a heartbreaking and delightfully weird reason).

Each story is immersive and populated with rich characters you can imagine ambling the streets of New York long after you’ve closed the book. They’re a lovely invitation to roam in Towles’ imagination and fully-rendered mini-worlds.

Just as Mr. Pennybrook suggested, Timothy went home, showered, donned the three-piece suit he’d recently had made, then headed uptown to the Pool Room of the Four Seasons. Housed in a midtown tower and designed by Philip Johnson in the midcentury style, the Pool Room was a gathering spot of movers and shakers, where every member of the staff wore a dark gray suit. Seated in a Mies van der Rohe chair, Timothy dined on foie gras for the first time in his life, then on a Dover sole, which, earlier that day, had been flown in from Dover. For dessert, he ordered the bananas Foster, having discovered that the dish was wheeled to your table and set on fire before your very eyes. In fact, the whole experience at the Four Seasons was so divine, Timothy resolved to return as soon as possible — with the accommodating Miss Chambers as his guest! — Amor Towles

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