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BOOK REVIEW: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

| 30 April 2017 | 2 Replies

BOOK REVIEW: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Little, Brown Book Group
March 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Biography/Literary Autobiography


The John Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” is applicable to Ariel Levy’s book, The Rules Do Not Apply. The New Yorker writer has penned a memoir about her life and when she had a fleeting glimpse of having it all before tragedy hit. This is ultimately a raw and engrossing read about a young life imploding.

Some readers will be familiar with Levy’s previous book, Female Chauvinist Pigs. In her former volume, she looked at the rise of raunch culture and its implications for modern women and feminism. In The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy delivers a memoir and takes a more personal approach to the proceedings by sharing important anecdotes and stories from her short life to date. The most crucial story arc was previously published in a viral and award-winning essay called, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” and in her memoir she expands on and processes the grief she endured at this time.

Ariel Levy lived a charmed life. She had landed her dream job as a staff writer at The New Yorker. She describes her fun, globe-trotting assignments where she interviewed the likes of: South African runner, Caster Semenya; American politician, Mike Huckabee; and lesbian activist, Lamar Van Dyke, among others.

When Levy was in her twenties she fell in love with a woman named Lucy and the pair married before gay marriage was legalised in the United States. They figured they could build a relationship on their own terms because they were defying tradition and convention. But Levy was not content for long and she had an affair with an ex-lover.

You have an affair because you are not getting what you want from your loved one. You want more: more love, more sex, more attention, move fun. You want someone to look at you with lust – after years of laundry – transforming you into something radiant. You want it, you need it, you owe it to yourself to get it. To live any other way is to be muffled and gray and marching meaninglessly toward death.

Her affair proved to be one of many home truths that Levy had to process and contend with. She had previously – and somewhat naively – considered that she had solved all of the problems that Jane Austen had once written about and grappled with i.e. to find a husband and a provider for your children. But instead Levy had to face some hard facts.

It is not a good feeling being right about something you have suspected when you finally gain undeniable confirmation that it’s true. It is not the satisfying sensation of everything slipping into place for which you have yearned. It’s more like, Oh, right…You have always known this. The only thing that’s mysterious is how you managed to think it was mysterious.

This book is a gripping one and this can be chalked up to Levy’s bold and acerbic prose as well as her general sense of foreboding. Early on in the book, she writes:

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.

This proves to be a strong hook and premise, because as the reader you empathise with Levy and you want to know precisely what happened. This biography is also a rather slim volume so we are not left waiting too long before learning what actually occurred. In the end, Levy makes you realise how fragile life can be and how things can change so quickly and easily, even when you think you have everything under control.

In The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy claims that she has become a cautionary tale. But in her candid honesty and revelations about her trauma where she deconstructs things in loving detail, it all proves to be so much more than that. Some readers may find it heartening and therapeutic while others may be challenged to stop and rethink a few things about their own lives, and others still might simply enjoy Levy’s ability to spin a cracking yarn or ten. The Rules Do Not Apply toys with a lot of different things like life, loss, ambition and yearning and it is proof positive that rules are futile and life is such a beautifully complicated thing that we shouldn’t take any of it for granted.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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