In the first chapter of her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy writes, ‘Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.’ Born in New York during the Reagan era, she is describing the world she grew up in, one in which you were told that you were in control of your life and could achieve anything. In suggesting that this world view might be narcissistic, Levy foreshadows the moment when she lost everything: her baby, her life partner, and her house.
The pivotal moment was first recorded in her award-winning essay ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’ (2013), which she wrote for The New Yorker, where she has been a staff writer since 2008. This personal essay marked a departure from her usual profiles of outstanding people, such as Caster Semenya, Nora Ephron, and Edith Windsor. Now she had turned the lens on herself, to tell the story of how she gave birth, prematurely, in a hotel bathroom in Mongolia. It is a riveting story, slightly distanced, and told with a journalist’s verbal acuity. When I first read the essay, I was stunned by the account but not deeply moved, though I too had given birth prematurely in a similar situation, with the same disastrous outcome.