The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir Summary & Study Guide

Ariel Levy
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The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir Summary & Study Guide Description

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Levy, Ariel. The Rules Do Not Apply. Penguin Random House, 2017. First Edition.

Note: Throughout this guide, "Ariel" is used to reference the book's main character. "Levy" is used to reference the author.

Ariel Levy wakes every morning consumed with sorrow. She has lost her spouse, her child, and her house, all within a matter of weeks. She has come to the sudden and shocking realization that despite her best efforts, the life she built has been swept away by forces beyond her control. To explain how she arrived in this tragic place, she takes the reader back in time.

Even as a child, Ariel knows she wants to be an adventurer, to travel, to be free and independent. She dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent while she works as a typist at New York magazine. By the time she turns 28, she is promoted to staff writer and, by 35, she is on her way to Johannesburg to write the kind of article she always dreamed of publishing.

In Johannesburg, Ariel writes a profile of Caster Semenya, a South African athletic hero. On one of her last nights in South Africa, Ariel makes her first mistake. She emails her old lover--not her spouse.

Levy flashes back to her childhood. Her mother attends a women’s consciousness-raising group but does all the cooking for the family. She takes pride in raising a daughter who does not need a man, but who is also a good cook. Levy remembers her mother’s special friend Marcus, who sleeps over and who meets her mother in Saratoga for dates. Ariel’s parents divorce and her mother stops cooking. She remembers her mother’s most important lessons: cook well, eat valiantly, do not depend on a man.

The narrative then jumps to a future time in New York City, several years before Ariel traveled to South Africa. Now in her 20s, Ariel learns her father has terminal cancer, but it is not long before his prognosis is reversed. Order is restored to Ariel’s world and she feels as though nothing bad can ever happen to her, because she is the leading lady of her own life.

Soon after, Ariel falls in love with Lucy, the woman who will become her spouse. Lucy already has a live-in partner, but Ariel considers that relationship over. She becomes the 28-year-old mistress to a woman in her mid-40s. Life is a party. Ariel and Lucy take vacations along the pacific coast, drinking gimlets and margaritas and manhattans. Lucy eventually leaves her partner for Ariel. Despite political tensions around gay marriage in the United States in the mid-2000s, Ariel and Lucy get married.

At first, Ariel worries that marriage will be too confining for her adventurous way of life, but she soon discovers the opposite. Despite being in a lesbian relationship, Ariel and Lucy soon slip into traditional male and female roles. Lucy does the driving and takes out the trash, while Ariel decorates their home and cooks her mother’s recipes for dinner.

Ariel and Lucy plan their life together out on paper. Lucy decides to start her own business and Ariel lands a job at The New Yorker. They buy a cottage on Shelter Island and turn it into their dream home. They plan to have a baby in the not-too-distant future. With parenthood in mind, Lucy and Ariel make a pact to cut back on their partying and drinking. Ariel feels that she has achieved the success and independence life had promised her.

Ariel turns 35. As her friends become consumed with motherhood, Ariel is consumed with lust. She reconnects with an old lover over email while in South Africa and begins an affair upon her return to New York. For the first time, she realizes she cannot have everything, at least not from one person. She wants a companionate spouse and an exciting lover at the same time. Lucy eventually finds out about the affair and starts drinking heavily. Ariel is wracked with guilt, convinced she is a bad wife and unfit to be a mother. Ariel and Lucy separate.

Ariel continues to date her old lover until she discovers he has been hacking into her email and has forwarded intimate details of their affair to Lucy. Ariel and Lucy reconcile. They make a new pact: no more cheating and no more drinking. Their life plan is back on track. Ariel and Lucy find a male friend who agrees to be a sperm donor and Ariel is inseminated.

On the fourth of July, Lucy comes home drunk. Ariel starts to worry her spouse is an alcoholic. The next morning, Lucy threatens to kill herself and Ariel calls the police. In the hospital, Lucy admits to having a drinking problem and commits to staying sober.

Part Two of the book begins a month later, when Ariel discovers she is pregnant.

Faced with the realities of motherhood, Ariel decides to take one last reporting assignment overseas. Despite concerns from her friends about flying while pregnant, Ariel is determined and her doctors are supportive. Alone in a hotel room in Mongolia, Ariel gives birth in her fifth month of pregnancy. The baby is born living, but his life is merely hours long. Ariel is devastated.

Back home, Ariel realizes Lucy never stopped drinking. Lucy’s employees stage an intervention and she enters rehab. Their marriage is over. They sell their house. Ariel is alone.

Part Three begins with an email from Ariel’s doctor in Mongolia. Correspondence with the only other person who witnessed her miscarriage is healing for Ariel and they develop a long-distance friendship. With nothing else but her own tenacity, Ariel lives through this crippling grief and slowly begins to rebuild her life. She makes new friends; she reconnects with her mother; she gets on an airplane again. She does not know what her life will look like in the future. She no longer has a plan, but she begins to feel a glimmer of hope.

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