Reviewed by Gretchen Winters
I admired the blistering honesty of the new book by Ariel Levy, a critically acclaimed New Yorker journalist and the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs.
Frustrated with her lowly and low-paying position entering other journalists’ stories for New York magazine into the computer, as well as inputting crossword puzzles designed by the magazine’s puzzle crafter, she devises a strategy for her journalistic career. In the gritty work day environment of New York city her idea to make the world conform to her wants and needs takes shape.
Ariel Levy takes you through the narrative of her adult life. In her own words “I want what we all want”, i.e., successful career, marriage and children. However, her unconventional approach to life fed her aspirations and sense of adventure and eventually to her whole world crashing down around her when she lost her child, her house and her spouse within a few months. Refusing to be overwhelmed by the tragedies that encircled her in the end, she still clung to her philosophy that the ‘rules do not apply’, but realistically in some circumstances they always will. Ariel’s tale of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed – and what never can.
The characters she depicts as she takes you on her journey are convincing, and her unconventional approach to problem-solving colour situations where dark humour is always bubbling to the surface. Outlined early in her story, she acknowledged her favourite childhood game that she played with her father formed the foundation of her philosophy for life. In the game, and in real life she revels in the role of “explorer” in any situation and her life experiences outside of the USA in South Africa, Mongolia and Iceland attest to this.
Her marriage to Lucy, the spouse she had fallen in love with in her late twenties, collapsed after the ill-conceived trip to Mongolia. They had bought a house together on Long Island which they both loved. During this early period of their marriage Ariel had an affair with an ex-lover. Although the marriage survived this affair, Lucy’s secret life as an alcoholic became an unavoidable fact. Their home became collateral damage in the wash up of their relationship post miscarriage.
Ariel fell pregnant via artificial insemination with a male friend, a co-parent who wanted “the love without labour” of procreation. She had chosen her career as a writer for love instead of money, but felt comforted by the material wealth of her sperm donor, who was “not insignificantly rich”. She loses his support with the unfortunate miscarriage in Mongolia.
Ariel Levy is a modern writer who believed that “marriage didn’t have to mean monogamy, that ageing doesn’t have to mean infertility, and that she could be the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.” The reader will be able to form their own opinion on that statement.
Ariel Levy’s book is stark and to the point and would particularly resonate with Gen X and Gen Y readers and to the generation that raised them.
By Ariel Levy
Penguin Random House