It's an act of courage to hunt for meaning within grief, particularly if the search upends your life and shakes out the contents for all the world to sift through. Ariel Levy embarks on the hunt beautifully in her new memoir ... The Rules Don't Apply is a search for meaning, not reason. It doesn't seek an explanation (outside of the medical one) for the death of Levy's son, any more than it seeks to explain away the love, fear, frustration and other experiences and emotions that take place within her lifetime. Her grief becomes a new part of her — something to understand and get used to ... She's brave and generous to share her story, which manages to be beautiful, even as it's stark and wrenching.
Levy has the rare gift of seeing herself with fierce, unforgiving clarity. And she deploys prose to match, raw and agile. She plumbs the commotion deep within and takes the measure of her have-it-all generation. Without giving away her story, I don’t think you can beat this as a trailer for the turmoil unleashed in her one-of-a-kind memoir: 'And the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is nothing I would trade them for. There is no place I would rather have seen.'
There’s a deep generosity in Levy’s willingness to acknowledge that trauma is rarely dignified or simple; her writing offers readers a salve against the loneliness of feeling that one’s own sorrow should feel more elegant or pure ... This book is haunting; it is smart and engaging. It was so engrossing that I read it in a day. But it’s also a deeply uneven book whose power in some moments only illuminates the absence of this force elsewhere. Its strongest sections illuminate the hollowness of passages that lean hard on cursory insights instead of probing beneath the surface of their easy summations to excavate more precisely articulated truths ... everything I loved about Levy’s voice — her intelligence, her candor, her sense of humor — also made me feel disappointed by the ways this book didn’t fully rise to meet the call of its strongest moments.