The Rules Do Not Apply (Book Review)

Ariel Levy is an American journalist who writes for the New York Times. She is most known for her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, written in 2005. This book, and many of Levy’s writing in general, focus on the culture of sexuality in modern America.

In her most recent work, The Rules Do Not Apply, she turns her journalistic lens inward on her own life. It is an act of bravery, and also an act of desperation in doing this. As a book written in a time of crisis- these raw literary pages tell a story of a woman, and also of a culture focused on the pursuit of love, money and happiness.

“I wanted what she had 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,” Levy writes.

In the memoir, Levy takes us through her rising journalistic career, meeting the woman of her dreams and getting “gay married” as she calls it, getting pregnant with a child and continuing her journalistic career. She ends the book with a miscarriage while reporting a story in Mongolia, breaking up with her wife and selling her house.

Through her story, Levy grapples with legitimizing her own pain, but tries to do so without much acknowledging her relative privilege to most of the world. As the cover of the book implies- that rules do not apply- as a reader I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the book would be if Levy looked at her sorrows as mixed into the global context- instead of seeming to exist on a solitary island of her own.

But then again, that’s what crisis does to a body. It centers the individual experience, and devotes all energy into attempting to fix what has fallen apart. Crisis is an inherently selfish time, and it should be, in that one is learning to live in the world as oneself again. Levy has written a book in crisis, and while it may not be as reflective as probably she herself had hoped it would be, hopefully it has helped her in the process of learning to be herself in the world. And really, what more can we ask of writing?

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