May 27th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is something I’ll have to think about more:
As most narratives require, soon comes the fall: Levy finds that the things she holds dear to her are not as sturdy as they seemed. Most significant, however, was learning how much you can miss when you think of writing and its process as your ultimate savior: “My job is to interpret, and to communicate my interpretation persuasively to other people,” she writes. “The idea that in life, unlike in writing, the drive to analyze and influence might be something worth relinquishing was to me a revelation.”
I wonder what this means? I wonder how it applies to me? I was a very bad writer for a long time because I wanted to keep the door open to multiple interpretations of events, and people’s motivations. I could not “communicate my interpretation persuasively to other people” because I spent all of my 20s and much of 30s unsure of how I wanted to interpret things. So, does that mean that I’m only now starting to do what she was already doing in her 20s? Perhaps in another 20 years I’ll have a revelation similar to hers? I wish I understood this paragraph better.
“Writing was the solution to every problem—financial, emotional, intellectual,” writer Ariel Levy says at the beginning of her new memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. That sentence is a concise description of Levy’s excitement upon starting work at New York magazine in the late ’90s, but it also works as an explanation for the book itself, which is a beautiful example of how the natural instinct of a writer—to try to analyze ones own life for clues and clarity—can work brilliantly, but sometimes more in service of their work than the person’s own happiness.
Despite the frustrations this dilemma has caused her, we are lucky to have the fruit of Levy’s labors. After working her way up from typing up other people’s articles at New York, she spent several more years there as a cultural writer, before becoming a staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008. For those who read New York during her time there, Levy embodied the best of their work, with trend pieces that were more than just fluff, instead acting as deft explorations and celebrations of the city’s constantly evolving culture (with heavy doses of gossip, humor, and gloss). These pieces resulted in her first book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, which remains an influential and succinct breakdown of how today’s ra-ra feminism was shaped by men during the ’90s and early 2000s before it was embraced by women. Her favored topics remain the same today—sexuality, culture, always women—and have resulted in her notable coverage of everyone from Dash Snow to Donatella Versace to Andrea Dworkin to Caster Semenya to Edith Windsor.
But it was Levy’s moving 2013 piece “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” about the miscarriage of her son when she was five months pregnant, in a foreign country and alone, that seemed to lift her into another stratosphere. That story morphed into The Rules Do Not Apply, which, like her first book, is quite short (a quick 200 pages), making her ability to touch on so many aspects of her life—the fluidity of sexuality; writing; complex family dynamics; infidelity; addiction; motherhood; fertility; loss—something to marvel at. To cull it down to something simple feels almost in opposition to Levy’s work, but primarily it tracks her professional life in tandem with her relationship with her now former partner Lucy (a pseudonym, one of several in the book), which ended soon after Levy’s miscarriage. The couple had grappled with infidelity on Levy’s part and alcoholism on Lucy’s, grief on both of theirs. And now, in the present day, Levy is with the doctor she met at the hospital in Mongolia, Dr. John Gasson (“the handsomest man in the world came through the door and said he was my doctor,” is how she describes him).
In reflecting on her own life, Levy’s tone is deeply honest, and at the same time manages to not be defensive or apologetic about her decisions; she’s not judgmental, but remains highly inquisitive. It’s a delicate balance, one rarely pulled off. The through line is her struggle to see things as accurately as possible, to translate her gift for interview and narrative into something personally productive.