We are busybodies by nature. We love to eavesdrop. Other people’s problems – and their memoirs! – prove to be perfect distractions from our own, which tend to be pretty mundane. We all have stories to tell. The ones we want to read had better be well written.
Ariel Levy has one hell of a story tell; wrenching, awful, horrific, an emotional gut-punch. Perhaps the inciting incident as we like to call it, tenderized her. But she was already writing for The New Yorker. She had the skill to not just write a story, but identify one. She looked at herself and understood that her story made the grade, but as well, that it would only do so if she were able to approach her entire story with the same level of skill (but not [continuously] the same level of intensity) that she brought when she wrote about herself the first time for The New Yorker. Her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, brings fists-clenched, fine writing to every sentence. She does not need or use her fists often. Her story itself does most of the punching.
Levy is the child of a generation of women who grew up as the rules regarding how women should live and behave were bring burnt to the ground. We meet her as she embraces her parents and their embrace of post-70’s hippie culture. She’s going to be a writer, and the fierce determination she exhibits is both a promise and a warning. For readers, it is a promise of tight, to-the-point writing. For Levy, it is a warning that she may prove to be as skilled at making things difficult for herself as she is in extricating herself from those difficulties.
Levy has a life that is unusual enough to initiate our interest as readers, and the wherewithal to follow that up with well balanced prose. She can be precise and dispassionate when it moves us faster, and she can be searing when she’s angry, in love, betrayed, obsessed or mortifyingly sad. As the pages fly, readers will discover good reasons for all her feelings.
What happens to Levy is best left discovered in the book itself. As a reader, I was appreciative of her ability to write prose so supple that I was able to immerse in it almost as if I were an ice skater, flying across the pages. The speed with which you devour this book is in no way indicative of how long it stays with you. Ariel Levy is in your life to stay, and readers will be thankful, ultimately for the journey she provides.
Sitting down to speak with Ariel Levy, I was happy to find her happy. It is there in the memoir, but any sense of happy might well be undercut by life itself and in specific, Levy’s life, which has been considerably more complicated and god-awful than many. The upshot is that we had a really fun and intense and wonderful conversation about how she wrote what she wrote as well as how she made it through what she wrote about to actually get around to writing it.
Ariel Levy kicks ass, takes no prisoners. Here’s a link to download the instant gratification conversation, which is just long enough to a) Make sure you want to hear the longer, in-depth interview b) Buy the book, in no particular order. In a hurry? Just listen below.
And, since you’ve decided to do both, why not start with the in-depth conversation, follow this link, or listen right here!