Even its opening lines are provocative: “Whom to marry, and when it will happen — these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice. … Men have their own problems; this isn’t one of them.”
If Kate Bolick’s debut, “Spinster,” a somewhat unsettling memoir/history/cultural criticism combo, was intended to provoke thoughtful discourse, it’s surely a success.
Here she takes on the history of women who are single by choice, rather than default. She uses her own experiences and melds them with those of five groundbreaking feminists, including poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and novelist Edith Wharton, whom she calls her “awakeners.” The result is a uniquely American quest for a life without regrets — and without a partner.
Much of “Spinster” rings true. For example, Bolick explains how “to live happily alone requires a serious amount of intentional thought.” She explains the importance of choosing a place to live (big city preferred) where the needs of singles can be easily met, where there’s enough cultural and social stimulation to stay busy and where one’s circle of friends can be wide and deep enough so that no one is relied upon too heavily to meet too many needs.
Time alone is an obvious recurring theme. “When you’re coupled,” she writes, “time is a precious commodity, or a contested territory under constant renegotiation.” But when you’re single, “You are often buried in time. … You hate it, rail against it, do whatever you can to get rid of it — work too much, drink too much, sleep around, make unsuitable friends.”
It’s the memoir part of “Spinster” that comes up short. Even though she’s unmarried, Bolick enjoys a nearly seamless string of long-term, serious relationships with men. One wonders how well she understands living a life truly alone.
Kim Curtis, The Associated Press
“Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” by Kate Bolick (336 pages; Crown; $26)