The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir
Ariel Levy opens her memoir, THE RULES DO NOT APPLY, with intimate self-talk. She explains that she talks herself through things constantly, that the self she talks to takes on a plural “we,” that different parts of that self tell her different things, but what she really does in the preface is invite readers to engage their selves on every following page. The result is a memoir that is as engaging as it is challenging.
The first chapter begins by succinctly establishing the tension at work in the modern woman's life. There is a sense of responsibility to do and be all the things that women a generation before could not, and there have been many memoirs written opposing that stance. But Levy captures something different: the desire to rise above the narrow options of following tradition or forging something in opposition to tradition. “I would not kick the door off its hinges. I would not choose the muffing comforts of home. I would be the explorer…” She hopes to do what so many women hope to do: create a life that can fit and sustain all the parts of themselves.
"For those finding the models of maturity unattainable, for those struggling with defining themselves even with the growing options offered, for those who have felt hollow while following all the rules, this book will resonate."
The following chapters unfold Levy’s attempt to do just that. She finds success as a writer, falls in love and marries, and has all the experiences being young and free entail. But throughout there is a desire for something more. Levy eventually hears the call of motherhood and wrestles with the complications of wanting such a thing when one’s aging body is a set of traps against it. But, as in all other endeavors before, Levy succeeds in getting pregnant and is awash with joy and hope for the future. Up until this point, her story has been a success story for the “having it all” model. But the tide swiftly turns, and in a quick succession of events, she finds herself with what every maturing woman fears: nothing to show for her efforts.
The way that Levy travels through time keeps readers engaged. She speeds past the times that merely serve as setup for the big events and indulges in introspection at each highlight. What is most refreshing about THE RULES DO NOT APPLY is her ability to open the inner mind of the modern woman. Unlike others before who played coy with the dark and selfish parts of personal motivations, Levy relishes in them, even when it makes her sound unlikable. This quality sometimes hits on a kind of ignorant hope that comes with privilege, as Charlotte Shane pointed out here, but overall it serves the purpose she set in the preface: to invite readers into the inner mind of a modern woman.
The most interesting message of THE RULES DO NOT APPLY is one of maturity. Levy finds that the rules do not apply to any part of maturing, and her book serves as a touchstone for a generation of women coming of age after “being given the lavish gift of our own agency by feminism --- a belief that we could decide for ourselves how we would live, what would become of us.” For those to whom this feeling of freedom does not apply, the memoir will read as privileged navel-gazing. For those finding the models of maturity unattainable, for those struggling with defining themselves even with the growing options offered, for those who have felt hollow while following all the rules, this book will resonate.
Reviewed by Allison Sharp on March 23, 2017