The Rules Do Not Apply
I have a tendency to pick up any memoir, novel, or essay collection that promises to be harrowing but ultimately haunting in an oddly refreshing way. It isn’t that I find joy in these books or enjoy in reading about suffering – I don’t. I tend, if anything, to get upset by books that don’t have happy endings these days. And yet, I find myself reading reviews and saying “I must read this” because I know these books are the ones that are uncomfortable to read but that ultimately stay with you and make you question what you know.
Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply was one such book. A memoir based on a short piece Levy wrote for the New Yorker in 2013 on a horrific miscarriage she suffered while traveling, the book looks back on the time leading up to and following this trip. I read a tweet before ordering The Rules Do Not Apply saying it was one of the top ten feminist books to read at the moment, and – neither having read “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” nor knowing anything about it – it made me think, okay, I need to try this then… not because I feel the need to read whatever “feminist” book is important at the moment, but because I hope that I’m finally going to pick up another volume that actually is feminist; not because it claims to be (Levy’s book doesn’t), but because it challenges the patriarchal values that are hiding behind every corner in an inclusive, thought-provoking, and even haunting way.
The first half of the memoir, I was worried I was reading something that wasn’t really any of those things. It was an uncomfortable read because Levy clearly was talking about her own discomfort. Everything she seemed to disdain, she then seemed to pursue. I absolutely hate reading feminist narratives where the writer or narrator makes “even I” claims and implies that she’s somehow better than other women. It seemed for quite a while, that Levy was heading down that path. Yet, in the week since I finished reading her memoir, I’ve decided that wasn’t really what was going on. In my need for every “feminist” narrative to be a Feminist Narrative, I was being the judgy one. Memoirs are human narratives, and Levy’s book is first and foremost a memoir. Her blunt honesty is, in fact, what makes her story a powerful one. Her writing is uncomfortable to read because reality itself is uncomfortable. We’re all imperfect and flawed, and we’re all capable of thinking we’re especially enlightened. And then life tends to come after us and tear everything apart.
Everything is torn apart in The Rules Do Not Apply, and that, ultimately, is what the memoir is about in a stunningly honest and chilling way. We may do things because we think we’re better than the norm, we may conform to the norm because we know it’s easier that way. We can play by the rules or upset them. Yet nothing we do will protect us from life itself. Horror can strike anyone at anytime, and there’s nothing we can really do about it but cope and enjoy the moments we’re given in the day to day. It’s simple and it’s straightforward and it’s somewhat cruel and maybe even somewhat trite, but it’s life.
I recommend The Rules Do Not Apply to anyone wanting to read something that is, above all, challenging and honest. I do not, however, recommend reading it to anyone who suffers from anxiety and is currently pregnant or planning on having children anytime soon.
I give it 4/5 stars.