Reviews

Free to Be

RICHARD VAN CAMP

In paragraph 2 of Ariel Levy’s preface to her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply (Random House), she writes: “In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house.” Oh, no. She launches chapter 1 with a childhood memory of playing a game with her dad. She already knew she could be anything she wanted. Her love of adventure, “the crackling fascination of the unfamiliar.” Always the writing: “the solution to every problem—financial, emotional, intellectual.” Her story powers along; eventually she will arrive at the start, returning to the losses set down in the preface, losses so terrible we won’t mind if she chickens out. But she won’t. Writing for New York magazine, falling in love at age twenty-eight. “I got married a few years later—we all did.” Flying off to Africa “to report the most ambitious story of my career,” about Caster Semenya, the powerful young runner from Limpopo who has undergone many a “gender testing” exam because some colleagues and officials believe Semenya is a man, or more man than woman. Then back to the USA and Levy’s mother, who prepares meals with “no-nonsense competence, spunky pride, and seething resentment,” and who says, frequently and with vigour, “You never want to be dependent on a man. You have to make your own living.” Then Levy falling for the beautiful Lucy through a wild, wanton, alcohol-drenched courtship. Then a lunch of sushi with David Remnick, who hires her as a staff writer for the New Yorker. Writing writing writing. Turning thirty-five, now or never for children. Then insemination. How about “one last brush with freedom” before turning to her life with spouse and kids? “My doctor told me that it was fine to fly up until the third trimester. When I was five months pregnant, I accepted an assignment in Mongolia.” I can’t tell you any more without wrecking it. Please read this book. Everyone’s a memoirist, but this woman is a writer.

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RICHARD VAN CAMP

Mary Schendlinger is a writer, editor, retired teacher of publishing and, as Eve Corbel, a maker of comics. She was Senior Editor of Geist for twenty-five years. She lives in Vancouver.


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