STAFF PICK: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Title: The Rules Do Not Apply
Author: Ariel Levy
Narrator: Ariel Levy

Clocking in at just under five hours, The Rules Do Not Apply, I assumed, would be a poignant but generally light interlude between my typically much longer listens. Boy was I wrong with that one. Ariel Levy sucked me in deep with her expressive, artful prose, her sense of humor in the midst of sadness, and her ability to be gracefully self-aware yet painfully self-obsessed — all in one gulp.

My favorite quote from the novel presciently summarizes what is to come as Ariel Levy tells her story:

“Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”

In this memoir, Levy deconstructs the fine line she walked between her ambitious, youthful talent, and her delusion that life would always unfold on her terms. When she miscarries at five months pregnant during a reporting trip to Mongolia, she is forced to reckon with that which is out of her control — including her wife’s alcoholism, and their financial situation.

Levy handles the heavy heartache with elegance and a needed dose of self-deprecating humor. Sometimes, the memoir misses the mark: there are some troubling passages about racial minorities that hint at an unchecked white privilege, and the ending felt a little rushed and lazy. But predominantly I felt intensely connected to Levy’s emotional journey and completely swept up in the narrative of her life.

Essential to that connection, I think, was that Levy narrated her own story.Β The way she speaks makes it feel like a candid interview, or a (long) monologue at a dinner party: conversational, and with a depth that can only come from an author’s narration.

I would highly recommend this listen for anyone who enjoys books about writers and writing, emotional memoirs, or novels set in New York City. It really does pack a punch; be prepared to ask yourself, “If everything by which I define myself came crashing down, who would I become?”