I first learned about Ariel Levy's memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, on a list in Entertainment Weekly called "The Best Books of 2017 So Far." I added it to my Goodreads list and sort of forgot about it. As I was preparing to fly to Miami, FL for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I realized I needed to stock up and decided to add this book to my cart.
I read The Rules Do Not Apply in two sittings. Though the book is only 207 pages, it's packed with beautiful prose and arrestingly honest self-reflection.
Chapter one begins with Levy sharing how she came to be a writer. She explains, "I started keeping a diary in the third grade and, in solidarity with Anne Frank, I named it and personified it and made it my confidante. 'The point that prompted me to keep a diary in the first place: I don't have a friend,' Frank told Kitty, her journal. Writing is communicating with an unknown intimate who is always available, the way the faithful can turn to God. My lined notebooks were the only place I could say as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. To this day I feel comforted and relieved of loneliness, no matter how foreign my surroundings, if I have a pad and a pen."
A few pages later, she describes the flurry of weddings that defines our late twenties, "I'd been promoted to staff writer by the time I fell in love, when I was twenty-eight. I got married a few years later - we all did. As we reached our thirtieth birthdays, my fiends and I were like kernels of popcorn exploding in a pot: First one, then another, and pretty soon we were all bursting into matrimony. There were several years of peace, but then pregnancies started popping, I found this unsettling."
What comes next, are Levy's candid feelings about not wanting to have children. As her friends and colleagues were becoming parents, she hurled herself in the opposite direction. She took foreign assignments whenever she could, traveling abroad in search of the best stories.
One sweltering summer evening, in the middle of a black out, she meets Lucy. A forty-one-year-old woman visiting from San Francisco. Though she learns Lucy is in a relationship, they are magnetized to each other. Fast forward two years, and they're exchanging vows and beginning a new life together in New York.
At first their relationship is incredible. They feel intoxicated by the other person's presence. However, things sour when Lucy's intoxication becomes alcohol-induced, and Ariel seeks comfort with another woman. Eventually, they own up to their shortcomings and try to move forward. She writes, "We made a pact. I would stop cheating. Lucy would stop drinking. No more agony. No more disloyalty. We would grow up now, for real."
A few months later, they decide to pursue having a child. Levy shares, "A month later, I knew I pregnant. I could sense it in every cell. . . Sweating, I charged up Amsterdam Avenue, looking for a pharmacy. After I'd bought a test, I found a Starbucks and stood in the sticky bathroom, overwhelmed by the excitement and the mingling scents of urine and macchiato while I waited for the lines to appear in front of me on the little stick. And then there they were: plus. It was like magic. A little eye of newt in my cauldron and suddenly I was a witch with the power to brew life into being."
What follows is, in a word, devastating. Levy heads all the way around the world to Mongolia on assignment, and has a miscarriage in her hotel room. She's alone, in a strange place, thousands of miles from her partner. Reading that particular chapter, my chest tightened and my stomach dropped. This is incredibly hard to read, and weeks later, I am still in awe of Levy's bravery in sharing her story.
This is not a book with a happy ending. Levy continues to feel deep, painful sadness, and her marriage crumbles. She buries herself in work, booking a trip to South Africa. That said, this is some of the most honest, moving writing I have ever read. Levy strips down to the unvarnished truth, no matter how unflattering or upsetting it may be.
*Image courtesy of PureWow.