The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy: Thoughts

I don’t remember which bookstore I was in when I picked this book up last summer and read the words “In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house.” Something to that effect, and I immediately wanted to read it. My own life had just shifted radically and I wanted to see how someone else was dealing with losses much larger than my own. I loved the voice of this memoir, and I loved especially, reading about her assignments as a journalist for The New Yorker, but the content was difficult to read. The terrible loss of her son was difficult to read of course…

(most devastating of all was her gratitude for him. “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.”)

…but more difficult was Levy’s self-centeredness and entitlement.

I had looked to this book originally to get out of my own grief by delving into the grief of someone else. To remember that my suffering is not the only suffering and that all humans are connected. I wished the whole book that Ariel Levy would have done something similar, sought out empathy. This book is almost a catalogue of people and situations she has been a victim of. She admits her privilege and entitlement and narcissism at some points, but she doesn’t go far enough, preferring instead to blame literally anything else for the misfortune in her life… most grossly, she blames (her self-serving definition of) feminism for teaching women we could have it all. “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 could life, what would become of us.” She briefly entertains the possibility that her affair with an ex-lover could have caused the alcoholism of her wife, but ultimately, Levy is a victim of her wife’s alcoholism. It is incredible to me that this woman is a reporter as she seems so incapable of being able to be in someone else’s shoes, completely incapable of being objective and seeing anything outside of her privileged white lens. By the end of the book, you get the sense that maybe she has been humbled, but somehow, the circumstances that led to her humbling have only served to enlarge her ego, to lead her to see herself (very dangerously) as wise, and a victim of life itself… chosen for a modern greek tragedy.

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