The Rules Do Not Apply

The Rules Do Not Apply

When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true. Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she built an unconventional life and then watched it fall apart with astonishing speed. Like much...

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Title:The Rules Do Not Apply
Author:Ariel Levy
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Edition Language:English

The Rules Do Not Apply Reviews

  • Esil

    I didn’t know anything about Ariel Levy – who is a writer with The New Yorker -- but the description of her memoir sounded interesting. Well, it turns out that I would probably be happy to read anything by Levy and I need to look for some of her other writings. Her memoir deals with terrible personal losses she suffered a few years ago. She talks about her childhood, her early years as a writer and her history of relationships. This background is presented as a build up to the events that turned

    I didn’t know anything about Ariel Levy – who is a writer with The New Yorker -- but the description of her memoir sounded interesting. Well, it turns out that I would probably be happy to read anything by Levy and I need to look for some of her other writings. Her memoir deals with terrible personal losses she suffered a few years ago. She talks about her childhood, her early years as a writer and her history of relationships. This background is presented as a build up to the events that turned her world upside down. There is nothing unusual about a memoir focused on loss and grief. But what I liked about Levy’s writing is her unvarnished candidness. She grew up with an uncanny self-confidence that has clearly served her well as a journalist and in the ways she has navigated the world since childhood. While her confidence no doubt came from her upbringing and social position, she nevertheless has an unusual innate sense of who she is and what she wants. A few years ago, life knocked her down, taught her that no one is immune to loss – it turns out some of life’s inevitabilities do apply to everyone. She appears to be using her memoir as an opportunity to re-evaluate what she thought she knew about herself and the world. Still, at the end of the day, her writing is bold and what shines through and what I really liked about this book remain her strong voice and confidence. I’m not sure I would recommend this so much because of the story Levy has to tell, but more because of how she tells her story. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

  • Debbie

    Who is this Ariel Levy, anyway? It’s always a risk to read a memoir by someone you’ve never heard of, or who isn’t a blogger with lots of creds. I’ve been burnt before. But this is definitely a keeper. Levy, at 38, had it all, and was dazed with happiness as she looked forward into the future. And then Poof! It’s gone. In a nanosecond her life turned to hell.

    Levy is an excellent writer. When I read that she worked for

    , I figured her writing would be exceptional, and it is. The sto

    Who is this Ariel Levy, anyway? It’s always a risk to read a memoir by someone you’ve never heard of, or who isn’t a blogger with lots of creds. I’ve been burnt before. But this is definitely a keeper. Levy, at 38, had it all, and was dazed with happiness as she looked forward into the future. And then Poof! It’s gone. In a nanosecond her life turned to hell.

    Levy is an excellent writer. When I read that she worked for

    , I figured her writing would be exceptional, and it is. The story has good bones: both the sentence structure and vocabulary are sophisticated, the language is beauteous, and the pacing is good. There’s even suspense—at times I felt like I was reading a novel. And like in a novel, she starts with telling us that a big terrible thing happened to her, and then she doesn’t tell us exactly what it was until way later in the story. (The big terrible thing is that she lost her child, her spouse, and her house—no spoiler here; she tells us this within the first few pages.) So the whole time, I was on pins and needles, wondering how she ended up with all the important things in her life gone. The in-between story—a little about her parents, her climb to success, her marriage, her bad choices, her writing assignments—is fascinating. (One assignment, about an intersex runner in South Africa, is particularly interesting.) It’s heartbreaking to realize that this is not a made-up story, that a real person felt real pain. It also shows that bad things and real pain happen whether you’ve had a good, easy life or not.

    Levy is a journalist. Journalists sometimes only supply the facts and tell dry, unemotional stories. That is not the deal here. She’s very self-aware. She analyzes her actions and feelings, constantly reflecting on what she did and shouldn’t have done. Before her tragedy, she was cocky and proud that she was living a successful, unconventional life. After the tragedy, she was devastated. She conveys her emotional state well; I felt sorry for her, and even more so because she didn’t beg me to.

    Here is what she says about her grief:

    And she has lots of other gems (not related to grief). I’m controlling myself and only showing you a few. This is very hard.

    What sticks in my mind the most (besides the horrific event itself) is the guilt she felt. She will forever be tormented by the question of whether what happened was her fault. (I wonder the same thing about her, though I try not to.) No amount of success, no distractions, no new relationships, will work to rid her of that feeling.

    A weird and only sort-of-funny thing happened while I was reading this, and it drove home the idea that I make assumptions, sometimes false, based on how society has trained me. I was sure I had read at the beginning of Levy’s story that she had lost her husband. (I also assumed she lost him and her baby in a car wreck or some other kind of wreck. Don’t ask me why.) In the middle of the story, we learn that she married a woman. I kept thinking that she must have remarried a man later. When is the husband going to enter the story? The book is almost half over and there’s no sign of him! So she has to divorce her wife and remarry pretty quick here if she’s going to finish her story. I went back and reread the beginning few pages. Guess what. She had never said “husband!” She had said “spouse.” I had assumed she had been married to a man! Wow! Shows me a thing or two!

    So, it tells you something when you see that the Complaint Board is missing. Yep, I loved this book. And the icing on the cake is that Levy knew my favorite writer of funny, Nora Ephron (although she mentions her only in passing). I’ll for sure be checking out other books and articles by Levy. She’s one smart writer.

    Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

  • Trish

    Ariel Levy always believed she could be a writer. Her mother told her it was a good idea, a normal thing for a pre-teen to aspire to, something for a teen to aim for. She was in her late teens when she wrote for

    magazine about a bar in Queens where enormously heavy women danced for men, and presumably women. The women wore brightly colored clothes, high heels, and sequins for anyone who lusted for heavy. It made the women feel desired.

    Levy was allowed to grow up thinking that sexuality

    Ariel Levy always believed she could be a writer. Her mother told her it was a good idea, a normal thing for a pre-teen to aspire to, something for a teen to aim for. She was in her late teens when she wrote for

    magazine about a bar in Queens where enormously heavy women danced for men, and presumably women. The women wore brightly colored clothes, high heels, and sequins for anyone who lusted for heavy. It made the women feel desired.

    Levy was allowed to grow up thinking that sexuality was not always obvious; that one might, in fact, be in love or lust with someone not one’s spouse. One might even consider all the world to be possible partners, not just someone of one’s age and race and perhaps not even of the opposite sex. If some might think that would add to the complexity of decision-making—who would take one’s virginity and when—to Levy it made things easier. Decisions about who to sleep with wasn’t difficult. It was easy to undo. One could just change one’s mind.

    I grow anxious with so many options, and have difficulty embracing such a cultivated sophistication about the possibility of lust for everyone I meet. Levy’s descriptions of her sexual life and gender fluidity gave me the feeling of viewing a Diane Arbus photograph: fantastic, queer, different, other. I think I may have convinced myself that gay and trans love and sex was like straight love and sex, only with different partners, but listening to Levy makes me reassess. I find I don’t really want to know. Please don’t tell me more. It makes me uncomfortable. Do I need to know to be fair?

    When Levy writes some kind of magic happens. I heard an excerpt of her memoir very late one night on the radio. She told us about the death of her infant while she visited Mongolia. The story made me feel sick, but it was as fascinating as it was grotesque: I couldn’t

    listen. I think of her traveling around the world, picking people to marry. The man she chose after she lost her baby she describes as having no family left at all, his parents dead, his wife divorced, his children in college, and his country, South Africa, in the throes of a government change. He was living and working in Ulan Bator.

    That kind of rootlessness is something very edgy, and not comforting. Only people that are forced would choose that space. Who goes into something always looking for the back door? Isn’t that a way to fail trying?

    Ariel Levy is a terrific writer, but I can't say I really like reading her. The exact way she describes how we discover alcoholism in someone close to us, how it feels new, constantly surprising, and always denied made me feel foolish for having been taken in so many times, just like that. It is just all so hard to believe. We just don’t understand, the way it presents. It looks like something else. We want to believe the lies—what a mess it will make—until one day the mess is already a fact and impossible to avoid. It just makes us feel so stupid. Human failure. The ways we sabotage ourselves. And all the time, it is worse for the alcoholic. Because it will never go away.

    This woman is too much, just like she says in the beginning of this memoir. She thinks the world is there just for her, and she will use it up. She will use herself up. She will use us up. When her spouse admits to alcoholism, Levy feels betrayed. Yes, but, we protest, it is worse for the spouse. She is the one who can’t get out of the hole. We learn, almost as an afterthought, that her mother has had a double mastectomy. Levy intellectualizes it all as if the bad things that happen are targeting her.

    Levy's struggle leaves me feeling like I went through much of it, too. Chris Abani writes fiction the way this woman writes nonfiction. I listened to the audio of this, produced by Penguin Random House and read by the author. Levy has an expressive voice and is able to put emphases in the work where she wants to push us a bit. She is something quite outside my experience.

  • Roxane

    Hmm. The writing on a sentence level is exquisite. Levy's vocabulary is just superb. This is an interesting book. Levy demonstrates self awareness and is willing to put herself on the page in uncomfortable but compelling ways. The end of the book is a mess. The last few chapters are just baffling given the strength of what precedes them.

    There is also this awkward strain of unexamined white girl privilege throughout. Now, is such examination mandatory? Of course not. But whew. The lack of it is

    Hmm. The writing on a sentence level is exquisite. Levy's vocabulary is just superb. This is an interesting book. Levy demonstrates self awareness and is willing to put herself on the page in uncomfortable but compelling ways. The end of the book is a mess. The last few chapters are just baffling given the strength of what precedes them.

    There is also this awkward strain of unexamined white girl privilege throughout. Now, is such examination mandatory? Of course not. But whew. The lack of it is pronounced.

    Still enjoyed this. The writing is just that good.

  • Hannah

    To talk about this book, I have to also talk about memoirs and my relationship with them in general. This book challenged me and my ideas of memoirs, especially those written by women. I have talked about my enjoyment of memoirs elsewhere so it is safe to say that it is a type of book I gravitate to and read a lot of.

    Ariel Levy’s memoir is a memoir about loss: the loss of her child, her spouse, and her house. She talks in absolute honesty of that loss and of the person she was beforehand, a pers

    To talk about this book, I have to also talk about memoirs and my relationship with them in general. This book challenged me and my ideas of memoirs, especially those written by women. I have talked about my enjoyment of memoirs elsewhere so it is safe to say that it is a type of book I gravitate to and read a lot of.

    Ariel Levy’s memoir is a memoir about loss: the loss of her child, her spouse, and her house. She talks in absolute honesty of that loss and of the person she was beforehand, a person who thought that ‘the rules do not apply’. Living an unconventional life mostly governed by what she wants rather than her surroundings, she stands before a massive pile of broken pieces, having to rebuild not only her life but also her understanding of it. So far, there are plenty o similarities to any number of brilliant memoirs I have read in the last few years, but there is a crucial difference, I think: Ariel Levy does not apologize for the person she is, with all her flaws and edges. This is not a memoir about growth through loss, because why should it be? I adore this, somehow. I adore how unapologetically herself she is, even if that person is probably not somebody I would be friends with. And why should that be a criteria to judge a literary work on to begin with? I think, and a brief look through reviews seems to agree with me, that often female narrators (in fiction) and female authors (in non-fiction) are somehow judged on likability. As if that has any influence whatsoever on the literay merit. As if the way she deals with her (horrific) loss is in any shape or form up for debate. This is her life and her book and her way of framing the story. (This is something I also find to be the case in Lidia Yuknavitch’s writing as well as in Maggie Nelson’s writing, both authors I enjoy immensely and who are also criticized occationally for making things all about them.)

    I found this memoir intensely readable, very gripping, and super thought-provoking. Ariel Levy’s writing is impeccable, her structure (both within a sentence as well as in the complete book) works absolutely wonderful, and her voice is perfect. The made me realize that I need to stop thinking about the likability of an author; it made me question my assumptions about the genre. I am so very glad to have read this.

    First sentences: “Do you ever talk to yourself? I do it all the time.”

    You can find this review and other thoughts on books (and relevantly: memoirs) on my blog

  • Julia Shaw

    It's tough to rate a grief memoir without feeling like you're making a personal comment about the author or her experiences, so I feel a need to qualify my choice of three stars... I'm very impressed with the author's writing skills and empathize with the grief she felt over her miscarriage and her spouse's alcoholism. But based on the Goodreads star descriptions I think this is solidly an "I liked it" book, without reaching the level of "really liked" or "amazing." This isn't a book that will t

    It's tough to rate a grief memoir without feeling like you're making a personal comment about the author or her experiences, so I feel a need to qualify my choice of three stars... I'm very impressed with the author's writing skills and empathize with the grief she felt over her miscarriage and her spouse's alcoholism. But based on the Goodreads star descriptions I think this is solidly an "I liked it" book, without reaching the level of "really liked" or "amazing." This isn't a book that will turn me into a proselytizer, and "urgency with which I would recommend it to other readers" is one of my internal benchmarks for elevating a book to the four-star level.

    The writing is eloquent and evocative, and I enjoyed many of Ariel Levy's feminist cultural analyses, and her depictions of the heady days of Manhattan in the 90s. There were several parts of the memoir, though, that seemed to lack the level of rigorous self-awareness I expected of Levy: she's quick to turn her keen insights and sharp critiques on other people, but less so when it comes to scrutinizing her own actions and psychology. I guess I wanted a bit more, particularly when she was engaged in the second of her ongoing adulterous affairs. The indignation I felt from certain characters who struggled to conceive children in their late 30s and early 40s seemed to contain an interesting kernel of entitlement around the notion of "having it all" that perhaps warranted deeper exploration.

    I found the preface a bit misleading, and I think in a way that undermined the entire book for me. She writes about friends who come over, "They wanted to meet the baby. He's dead, I had to tell them." She writes she "didn't have the heart to tell them" about her spouse, and that she's been newly confronted with the reality that "anything you think is yours by right can vanish." She writes of having to sell her house. So, silly me, I read this preface and understood the baby to be a living, breathing infant whom people might conceivably be able to meet. I thought she was going to lose her home, her spouse, and her child during one catastrophic trip to Mongolia. I didn't realize that the "loss" of her spouse was not due to a death, but to the author's choice to disengage from her partner when it became clear that her partner's struggle for sobriety would be a long, uphill battle with no guaranteed outcome. The dead son she describes had never been born, which of course I would have known if I'd read the copy, but somehow missed in the opening preface....

    This is a personal problem, but I found myself objecting to the author's need to sensationalize her loss and put it in such mythic terms ("Am I in an Italian opera? A Greek tragedy?"). She's not unique in experiencing loss and disappointment, and she's not a victim, though at times she seems not to realize that. The scene in Mongolia when she miscarries is heartbreaking, and of course the loss is horrific--I guess I just felt like it was horrific enough on its own terms without her needing to dramatize it. It is an effective tactic, I suppose, in impressing the reader with the extent of her own grief and putting it in terms the reader can perhaps more fully appreciate. But tragic though it is, a miscarriage is really not the same as losing a living baby you've carried to term and given birth to. (I feel callous and horrible and self-loathing for writing that, and I'm sorry, but it's not the same.) The home in question was actually her summer home, which, though devastating to Levy, is not exactly an epic tragedy... Well, I feel like a complete bitch now.

    Memoirs often have a tendency to sensationalize events that really aren't that extraordinary: she had a miscarriage and is going through a divorce. It's introduced in such sensational terms that I spent most of the book wondering what possible confluence of events could have resulted in three devastating losses heaped on one another, but it's not really like that. I would have found the loss of her pregnancy and dissolution of her marriage and end of the life she'd been building heartbreaking even without the extreme introduction. Her reaction to those events felt a bit myopic. She never mentions how common it is to miscarry--according to March of Dimes, as many as 50% of all pregnancies result in miscarriage (15-25% of recognized pregnancies)--or to divorce (about 50% of marriages end in divorce), or to lose your home (according to NHP, some 70% of Americans fear losing their home). I felt like she had an opportunity to broaden the scope and speak to the more universal aspects of her experiences, but I guess it's too raw and too personal for her to go there yet.

    I really did enjoy this book and my heart goes out to Levy--I hope she finds what she's looking for and manages to get everything she wants out of life.

  • Diane

    This memoir got a lot of hype, some of which is justified.

    Ariel Levy has some strong passages in the book, but parts of it felt padded and unfocused.

    is an extension of an article Levy wrote in The New Yorker on a horrible miscarriage she suffered while reporting in Mongolia. The story of the miscarriage is heartbreaking, along with her grief when she later lost her spouse, Lucy.

    "For the first time I can remember, I cannot locate my competent self — one more missing person

    This memoir got a lot of hype, some of which is justified.

    Ariel Levy has some strong passages in the book, but parts of it felt padded and unfocused.

    is an extension of an article Levy wrote in The New Yorker on a horrible miscarriage she suffered while reporting in Mongolia. The story of the miscarriage is heartbreaking, along with her grief when she later lost her spouse, Lucy.

    "For the first time I can remember, I cannot locate my competent self — one more missing person. In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I'm disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life. I am thunderstruck by feeling at odd times, and then I find myself gripping the kitchen counter, a subway pole, a friend's body, so I won't fall over. I don't mean that figuratively. My sorrow is so intense it often feels like it will flatten me."

    The first part of this book is the strongest, and I enjoyed reading how Levy became a writer and reporter. However, this memoir is also frustrating in that she makes several bad relationship decisions, and it made me want to put the book down and give her a tough-love lecture. And Levy comes across as cold toward Lucy, who was dealing with an alcohol addiction. The last section of the book is especially unfocused — everything after the details of her miscarriage were kind of a rambling mess.

    And about that miscarriage scene... it was so gory that it was brutal to read. I've noticed a terrible trend in the media world of pushing everything to extremes, especially scenes of violence and trauma. I see this in the movies we watch, in TV shows and on the news, and also in the shocking personal essays that are posted online and spare no bloody detail. I've wondered if this is all a result of internet algorithms, with the most horrific stories getting the most clicks, so publishing companies assume

    wants to see more horror. But I don't. I'll be fine if I never again read another awful miscarriage scene.

    I generally enjoy memoirs, and in the end, I'm glad I read this and I will remember Levy's story for a while. I would recommend

    to readers who like emotional memoirs. Just be braced for some painful scenes.

    "Until recently, I lived in a world where lost things could always be replaced. But it has been made overwhelmingly clear to me now that anything you think is yours by right can vanish, and what you can do about that is nothing at all. The future I thought I was meticulously crafting for years has disappeared, and with it have gone my ideas about the kind of life I'd imagined I was due. People have been telling me since I was a little girl that I was too fervent, too forceful,

    . I thought I had harnessed the power of my own strength and greed and love in a life that could contain it. But it has exploded."

    "Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It's also a symptom of narcissism."

    "The fear of ending up like [my grandma], cutting coupons in a one-room efficiency surrounded by strangers, made me vigilant like my parents, anxious that the poverty of our ancestors was always just one wrong move away."

    "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."

    "In a strange way, I am comforted by the truth. Death comes for us. You may get ten minutes on this earth or you may get eighty years but nobody gets out alive. Accepting this rule gives me a funny flicker of peace."

  • Pouting Always

    I'm just going to talk openly about what happens in the memoir because it seems as though it's mostly all out there as is, and so I don't want people yelling at me about spoilers. The literal summary provided makes even the miscarriage clear. Ariel Levy was thirty eight when she got pregnant, before which she had been ambivalent about having a child. Ariel wanted a child but she also wanted to pursue her ambitions in journalism and create a financially stable life for herself. Her desire to live

    I'm just going to talk openly about what happens in the memoir because it seems as though it's mostly all out there as is, and so I don't want people yelling at me about spoilers. The literal summary provided makes even the miscarriage clear. Ariel Levy was thirty eight when she got pregnant, before which she had been ambivalent about having a child. Ariel wanted a child but she also wanted to pursue her ambitions in journalism and create a financially stable life for herself. Her desire to live outside of traditional expectations led to a life of travel and enjoyment. Yet one can not have everything, all choices have trade offs, and waiting so long to get pregnant meant Ariel eventually ended up having no children. This was only one of the many choices that lead to the implosion of the life she had created with her spouse Lucy, trade offs that eventually did not sustain the relationship, like Ariel's denial about Lucy's drinking. Ariel explores what it means to have freedom and the constant grappling she deals with when she chooses to do things based on her desires.

    I only gave this book three stars because the writing was good and I understand what the author was trying to do. It's just that the memoir felt badly put together. In the beginning when she's in Africa and hints at ruining her life by talking to an old lover it is really distracting because after that she goes back in time and I had trouble for a while making out what she was talking about and what the time line of things were. Also it just didn't feel like things fit together, she writes about her childhood and meeting Lucy and her mentor but for some reason I wasn't sure what I was supposed to understand when I put all of that together. I know that human beings aren't neat narrative packages but I can't stand the way memoirs always do this. No one is interesting enough that I want to read about their life honestly, unless there are larger points being made.

    It's really sad that her child died, and it was an awful thing that she had him in the bathroom. I even empathize with how much it must have hurt to have to end her relationship with Lucy. I know life is messy but it's not really something I want to read about. And at the end she just lists daydreams about where her life might go next. Ariel mentions that she loves to journal and maybe the appropriate place for all of this was in a journal. It didn't really reveal anything new for me. Like wow choices come with trade offs. The most interesting stuff might have been her discussion of how hetronormative gender roles play out in her own relationship but it also just made me dislike her because she keeps talking about how it's Lucy's job to take care of her. Maybe if Ariel just stopped thinking about herself for once then her relationship wouldn't have imploded. You can't put pressure on your spouse to provide, cheat on them while they try to build their company, be in denial about their addiction, and then turn around and leave them when you miscarry and they are in rehab. Did she really think that would work out.

    I don't dislike Ariel and I don't think shes a bad person. We all make regrettable decisions. It's just hard to feel sorry for her when she could've stopped most of the problems from arising with Lucy. I honestly did really feel awful about the whole pregnancy thing though. That was one of the only things that I didn't feel like were on her. She had waited too long to have a child yes, but it's hard as a women to decide to have kids when it can limit ones autonomy so enormously. Anyway Ariel is a really great writer but I didn't get anything out of this memoir but that might not be on her really, I usually always end up disliking memoirs. I do try though.

  • Melissa Stacy

    The literary memoir "The Rules Do Not Apply" is all about a privileged white woman who has led a charmed life. The author has been raised to assume she has control over all aspects of her life because nothing traumatic has ever happened to her, or anyone in her family, and she has had a successful writing career, according to plan. She has grown up believing she should "have it all" in life, and she actively pursues that goal throughout childhood and into her adulthood.

    Author Ariel Levy assumes

    The literary memoir "The Rules Do Not Apply" is all about a privileged white woman who has led a charmed life. The author has been raised to assume she has control over all aspects of her life because nothing traumatic has ever happened to her, or anyone in her family, and she has had a successful writing career, according to plan. She has grown up believing she should "have it all" in life, and she actively pursues that goal throughout childhood and into her adulthood.

    Author Ariel Levy assumes that this message of "having control" and "having it all" in life was a lesson of feminism. At age 38, the author uses medical intervention to become pregnant for the first time, but suffers a miscarriage five months into her pregnancy. Due to this tragedy, Ms. Levy suddenly realizes life is uncontrollable, and is a terminal event for all of us (she figures out that we all have to die). She also realizes that she does not have control over life, and she is now forced to accept that she cannot "have it all." Ms. Levy blames her lack of control, and her inability to "have it all" on feminism. Her memoir touts the belief that feminism has failed her.

    It is difficult to type a review when my skull is full of such utter loathing for a book. I don't hate the author for sharing what she has suffered; I hate that Ariel Levy chose to universalize her experience as representative of ALL women, and then blame the vagaries of life on feminism. As if feminism were responsible for the placental abruption that caused her miscarriage. As if feminism were responsible for her spouse being an alcoholic, or the cause of the author's adultery. As if feminism were responsible for alcoholism and adultery ending the author's marriage.

    News flash, Ms. Levy: PRIVILEGE and ENTITLEMENT teach the lessons that life is always within your control, and that you deserve to "have it all."

    FEMINISM teaches: that those who possess any kind of female genitalia or feminine gender are human beings, and that ALL human beings deserve equal access to dignity, legal rights, opportunities, experiences, education, and love.

    Here are some examples of how Ms. Levy (who was born in 1974) universalizes her privileged experience as a central theme of her memoir.

    "We [Ms. Levy and her female friends] lived in a world where we had control of so much. If we didn't want to carry groceries up the steps, we ordered them online and waited in our sweatpants on the fourth floor for a man from Asia or Latin America to come panting up, encumbered with our cat litter and organic bananas. [...] Anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money, and tenacity." (page 10)

    "We were raised to think we could do what we wanted -- we were free to be you and me! And many of our parents' revolutionary dreams had actually come true. [...] You could be female and have an engrossing career and you didn't have to be a wife or mother (although, let's face it, it still seemed advisable: Spinsterhood never exactly lost its taint). Sometimes our parents were dazzled by the sense of possibility they'd bestowed upon us. Other times, they were aghast to recognize their own entitlement, staring back at them magnified in the mirror of their offspring."

    The "we" in that passage on page 10 and 11 walks a fine line between referring to "Ms. Levy and her friends" and a "we" that stands in for "all women of the author's generation."

    Here is a place in the text in which the "we" most clearly refers to "all women of the author's generation" and doesn't limit itself to Ms. Levy and her friends alone:

    "Women of my generation were 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." (page 69)

    Ms. Levy makes it clear she has no idea what feminism stands for -- because feminism most certainly does NOT say you can determine your own fate. Feminism says all people should have the right to make their own choices -- feminism doesn't promise that life will deliver that choice.

    But the delusion gets even worse. Here is a passage in which Ms. Levy is comparing herself to her mother, and then universalizing her own desires as the desires of ALL women (not just as the desires of herself and her small group of friends) --

    "I wanted what she [my mother] 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." (page 90)

    I started gnashing my teeth when I read that. Because I am a woman and I do NOT want to be a middle-aged mother. I have NEVER wanted to have a child. Not when I was a child myself, and not as a woman who is now 36 years old.

    Feminism lets me know that it's OKAY to make that choice for myself. That I am NO LESS a woman just because I do not want to give birth, and have never wanted to be a mother.

    But here is the passage in the book in which it is clear how insulated in her privilege Ms. Levy truly is: when she writes of fleeing her home after finding her spouse (Lucy) has been drinking. The realization that Lucy has been lying all along about her drinking problem precipitates the end of their marriage, and Ms. Levy makes the choice to leave their "island house" immediately --

    "I got the keys from Lucy and told her it was time to take a nap -- she fell asleep quickly in our bed. Then I found the kittens and my computer, and got in the Jeep, sweat rolling down the back of my neck, the insides of my thighs. I drove past the mariners' shops in Greenport and the stalwart farms and corny wineries of the North Fork. I looked at the people -- from Guatemala, from Mexico -- working in the fields, the sun pounding down on them indifferently. I wondered if everything that pained me would seem ridiculous to those women, or if some of our problems were the same. The cats roamed between the backseat and the passenger's side in front, pushing their faces toward the air conditioner." (page 119)

    That is all the attention those "people/women" receive in this text -- a passing thought smashed between the mention of Ms. Levy's kittens.

    But let me point out something important here -- a level of racism that is subtle, insidious, and completely at odds with feminism. Ms. Levy is using a casual shorthand to give her readers a visual on these workers, stating they are "from Guatemala, from Mexico" -- even though she doesn't know anything about these field workers beyond what she can see from her vehicle window. She is traveling across Long Island, back to her home in Manhattan, and making assumptions based on a glance.

    In reality, Ms. Levy doesn't know WHERE "those women" are from -- and I have a big news flash for the author -- field workers can be U.S. citizens, born and raised on American soil. Field workers in the United States might have been born and raised ANYWHERE. And I would bet at least some of "those women" working the fields are Ms. Levy's age, fellow members of Ms. Levy's generation, and could have grown up in the state of New York along with her.

    And you see what Ms. Levy does? She tells the reader "those women" have dark skin, dark hair, and they look foreign. She tells the reader "those women" don't look American. Because they're "from" a foreign country -- even though all she truly knows about them is what she can see with her eyes.

    She did the same thing to the people she hired to deliver her groceries -- when she used the phrase "a man from Asia or Latin America" to describe a delivery person -- based on nothing more than what she can see with her eyes. As if a yellow-skinned or brown-skinned delivery person cannot be born in the United States, or England, or France, or anywhere that is not a developing or communist nation.

    The entire memoir is like this: it's the tale of a white woman of privilege who is so insulated in her levels of entitlement, she believes she speaks for "all" women when she cannot even recognize that her class and race have completely Othered the non-white women around her, to say nothing of the women of her own class and race who have never felt entitled to "having it all," or the women who have always understood that life is a terminal event that is not completely under their control.

    It's important to note that Ms. Levy tries to equalize herself with the women working in the fields by pointing out that she is sweating along with them. Ms. Levy, with her air conditioner struggling to cool down the inside of her Jeep, is sweating the same way those field workers are sweating in the indifferent sun. As if their suffering is equalized, in the same way she is suggesting that alcoholism, and the consequences of alcoholism, aren't limited to a particular nationality, class, or race. Not only does she Other "those women," but she strives to put their suffering on the same scale as hers.

    This memoir taught me that there are accomplished literary elites in the world who would rather blame their problems on feminism than white privilege.

    "The Rules Do Not Apply" features Hemingway-esque prose and a severe lack of depth. This memoir is not about universal womanhood, but all the ways entitlement can weaken and debilitate those who are insulated from the hardships of life by their place of birth, skin color, and wealth.

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