The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

At first, I was not so sure about this book. It read: PRIVILEGE, PRIVILEGE, PRIVILEGE. Then I got it: That was the point. When you grow up in the world during a time when walls are being torn down, when young, successful people are rising up everywhere, and when it seems like you can have everything, why not choose everything?

In The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy unabashedly describes her great fortune and her great adventures, from backpacking Asia in her early 20s to her great love, which begins as an affair, to her work on gender, sexuality and identity as a writer for New York Magazine and, later, the New Yorker, to her own affair, to her relatively easy conception of a baby in her late 30s while friends around her struggled to get pregnant. It is almost obnoxious how glamorous and unreal her life seems, from her recollections of her childhood - "my mom was having an affair openly, he slept in the TV room, we spent Christmases with his family, dad was going to die of prostate cancer, no nevermind, mom had breast cancer a couple of times, I just remembered" (okay, not verbatim) - to her international travel for work - "I arrived to South Africa with no sources, but just woke up one day knowing I would find the person on whom this story was based." 

I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.
— Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply

This was all intentional. It elevates you up to the Cloud 9 from which Levy never thought she would fall. Despite her partner's alcoholism and risky business decisions, despite her infidelity, despite the loss of their pet, life is good. They buy two new kittens and life is good. If you are feeling stuck and you are reading Part 1 of this book, you want to throw it at the head of the friendly barista who has served you your ginger juice because life just does not work this way for people, certainly not for you.

This memoir makes you want to shake her until you are shaken. Because that glamorous life swiftly falls away. Quickly, suddenly, she loses her partner, her baby, her home. It happens so fast, and so mysteriously, and so faraway from a reality you know, that you want to go back and root for the obnoxious protagonist at the start of the book. The unreal just became a bit too real. 

Two things I loved about this book were:

  1. Her open sexuality/intimacy/partnerships and how beautifully she admits her curiosities and deep love or entanglement with people.
  2. The strangers, written as if they were fictional characters, who enter our life in the most unusual times and let us know how big earth is. Not so big it will swallow us up, but to remind us how our experiences are written in to the story of the world, of Mother Nature. For her, this was the doctor who was with her the night she gave birth, violently, to her son.

While this story is her own, and this book is unique, it does remind me of other pieces I have been coming across more and more lately, and perhaps this is because I am reading a lot of related new literature. The voices of today are the voices of middle-aged people that grew up in the vibrant, dangerous days of the 80s and 90s. The pre-millennials. And these are stories of greed, wealth, envy, rawness, grit, sex, sexuality, hunger, power and uninhibited ferocity.

I don't believe that is true of the stories that are rising up in the generation to follow - my generation. Ours are the stories of vanity, consumerism, cynicism, social media, text messages, Tinder, globalism, development goals and recurring existential crises. Who knows what memoirs the me of tomorrow will be reading when I'm in my 40s...