A Writer’s Turmoil in The Rules Do Not Apply

The journalist Ariel Levy has the rare gift of seeing herself with fierce, unforgiving clarity, and deploys prose to match in her memoir.

Don’t be fooled by this book’s neon cover, or by what could be taken as the Trumpian tone of its title. Ariel Levy’s subject is sudden, all-encompassing loss—of a son, a spouse, a house, and, along with them, “my ideas about the kind of life I’d imagined I was due.” When her world was upended, she had not yet turned 40.

Random House

Levy, who began her career at New York magazine before joining The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, knew early on “the kind of woman I wanted to become: one who is free to do whatever she chooses.” A bold and bookish girl growing up in Westchester, New York, in a pre-9/11 world, she thrived throughout her 20s and into her 30s on “a compulsion to thrust myself toward adventure.” She had male and female lovers. She traveled to far-flung places. Her journalistic specialty was “stories about women who are too much.”

Levy counted herself among that undaunted company. She still qualifies, even after being buffeted by deep grief in marriage and pregnancy, and chastened to learn how much in life eludes control. Levy has the rare gift of seeing herself with fierce, unforgiving clarity. And she deploys prose to match, raw and agile. She plumbs the commotion deep within and takes the measure of her have-it-all generation.

Without giving away her story, I don’t think you can beat this as a trailer for the turmoil unleashed in her one-of-a-kind memoir: “And the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is nothing I would trade them for. There is no place I would rather have seen.”

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