I am convinced that Americans (and more specifically Hollywood) invented the concept of a happy ending. I have studied both Russian and German and each language uses the English phrase “happy end” to describe a story or a movie that ends happily – as if ending well is a foreign concept. I recently finished a story that did not end so pleasantly. In fact, I was surprised the book ended when it did, because when things got bad, then got worse, and then just ended, I thought to myself “gee, this can’t be right.” But it was ‘right,’ and such is life. The book I am referring to is a memoir by Ariel Levy called The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir. In 2017, W Magazine named this book this year’s must-read memoir; so, if that piques your interest, do read on.
With the right words and focus, anyone’s life can make an interesting story. Levy’s life is no exception, but also exceptional for all its ups and downs and twists in her young adult life. First, I must say that I find the title to be odd. While reviewers describe this book as a story about a woman who is ‘too much of this’ or ‘too little of that,’ I feel that the memoir is not focused on how Levy does or doesn’t fit into the mold of a young woman, rather a unique portrait of life and all of the pleasure, pain, uncertainty, and sorrow that accompany it.
We meet Levy in her profession as a journalist. She is covering a variety of stories like that of a night club for obese women in NYC, as well as controversy surrounding the famous South African runner Caster Semenya. Through her journalistic endeavors, the reader learns some interesting information, but also gets to know Levy and her ambition to be a writer. We also learn about Levy’s complicated relationships. Lies, lust, and infidelity are common themes when we see Levy as a single woman, a married woman, a separated woman, and ultimately a divorced woman. The story of her relationships could definitely be fictionalized and made into an indie drama, as it contains all of the following elements – an affair with an older woman, an ex-girlfriend who years later turns into her ex-boyfriend, marital struggles, and mishaps in far off lands.
The dysfunctional relationships really struck me. Not being honest with yourself about your desires and being dishonest in any way with your partner seem to be the surest ways to sink a relationship. Although Levy and her girlfriend are deeply in love, they started off on shaky foundation. Levy’s girlfriend was in a relationship at the time, which made Levy the ‘other woman.’ Ironically, Levy’s girlfriend is committed to monogamy, but Levy herself is not. This is a point of contention early on in the relationship. When times are tough, Levy proves to be unfaithful and her girlfriend proves to be unreliable; the love remains but turns toxic as each woman is unable to be totally honest with the other.
As a gay woman, nothing about Levy’s story is easy. Levy and her girlfriend were ‘married’ before it was legalized in the United States and each woman comes from a family which sees their union as morally abhorrent. The raw emotion is hard at times, but the story is so well written that you will want to keep reading just to find out what happens next.
I admit that this was not my most favorite memoir. One thing that I found particularly strange was the way in which Levy wove her little vignettes together. The tales, while mostly in the present, also slid back to pivotal moments in her adolescence. One minute we were on an African safari and then the next we were in her childhood kitchen awaiting one of her mother’s well-prepared meals. Even with the peculiar timeline of events, overall, I enjoyed The Rules Don’t Apply. If anything, a story such as this one just may help you put your life into perspective.