Kate Bolick’s Spinster

I read Kate Bolick’s book Spinster today. My initial, jerky instinct was to write a one sentence review: “In Spinster, Kate Bolick spends 300 pages on what she claims to not be hung up about.” But that’s rude, although I do think that tension animates the book. Bolick’s desire, it seems to me, is to scratch an itch by not scratching it. Still: when it isn’t shooting itself in the foot, which is fairly often, it’s a deft, deep, and careful book, one which manages the rare feat of seeming well-loved without being fussed over. It’s a book that gives no fucks about the fact that its author gives a fuck, and yet I never saw the fault that dooms a clear majority of the nonfiction that I read, which is the sweaty hand of too much attention, the sense of being over-edited and underwritten.

I just don’t know why Bolick seems, so often, to feel the need to place the happily coupled into the same prison that she so achingly describes for herself. I have never, ever understood the urge to say that monogamy, marriage, or romantic love are doomed, or dying, or dead, based on how many people are currently engaged in these activities, or not engaged, really. When an unhappy marriage ends in divorce, this is a victory for marriage, not a defeat; how could the institution possibly be strengthened by the endurance of such a union? Instead, monogamy prevails when it stands as one option among many. Those who choose one person, after the demise of the pressure to do so, will affirm the concept in a powerful and beautiful way, through the validation of choice without coercion. There is an endless appetite, it seems, for thinky thinkpieces that proclaim the death of these durable institutions, and they are without exception a rotten genre, thin as sushi seaweed. Salon, I’d estimate, runs one of those pieces once every six months. And what Laura Kipnis and Sandra Tsing Lo and so many others can’t seem to understand is that, in condemning long-term coupling for everyone, they simply replicate the sad pressure that Bolick so deeply wants you to know she feels and does not feel. I read her book and want Kate Bolick to be free. I want her to want others to be free too.

Can you valorize one type of life without denigrating others? I have wagered a great deal of my psychic life on the idea that you can — that perhaps, someday, the bitter Star Wars fan will learn that sneering “up” at the imagined opera fan can’t contribute to a sneering-free world. As time goes on, though, I am less and less sure that this is true. Most people seem to want one thing more than any other from their fellow humans: unanimity in their desires, the only validation that matters, that of identical taste, of identical desire. I fear that, in this way, the heart is a fascist, and maybe it always was.