Samantha Irby, a very funny woman, accidentally became an author on foot of the success of her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. Created to impress a potential lover who “had a thing for writers”, the blog became much more valuable than the short-lived relationship and spawned the first of Irby’s three essay collections, Meaty. All of which is chronicled, in inimitable Irby style, in the final essay of this latest book.
Throughout this collection, we get up close and personal with the inner (and sometimes frighteningly outer) workings of both Irby’s body and mind. Subject matter ranges from married life in a small town in the American Midwest, through catching a lucky break in Hollywood, to pooping in a diaper while speed dating.
There’s a lot of self-deprecation and this can, at first, be grating. Do we really need another fat woman laughing at herself, no matter how hilarious? There’s a certain amount of tuning-in to be done, to get into the flow of Irby’s razor-sharp mind and writing style. But soon you will find yourself on a rip-roaring tour through Irby’s life, filled with honesty, belly laughs and more than a few poignant and hard-hitting moments.
Peppered with swear words – all wholly necessary, in my opinion – the essays all have a strong conversational tone. You could be sharing a sofa with Irby, eating pizza, comparing the more interesting aspects of your ageing bodies. Using refreshingly different essay forms throughout the book, Irby avoids reader exhaustion – a real risk because this is high-octane stuff.
In the opening essay, Into the Gross, Irby describes a typical day in her new married life: considering glamorous lifestyle blogs while eating and procrastinating. “I want to admire her floating through a bright and clean apartment in photos so beautiful and overexposed that it hurts your regular person eyes to look at them as she describes the minutiae of her daily routines, but all the cat dander in my eyes makes it difficult.”
Girls Gone Mild, the hilarious account of what it takes for a middle-aged woman with a chronic illness – Irby has Crohn’s disease – to party hard with her friends, is written in diary form, outlining the schedule hour-by-hour.
“11.15pm: was I ever this young and tolerant?
“I ordered a whiskey because you can take the tiniest, most imperceptible sip in front of your friends to prove you aren’t a party pooper and then set that shit down somewhere when they aren’t looking and switch to water for the rest of the goddamn night without these bitches hassling you.”
Useful life tips abound, notably in Love and Marriage, which sees Irby as Agony Aunt answering a series of questions about – you guessed it – love and marriage.
“Maybe this is the upside of being ugly, but when men throw shit at you and scream lewd shit at you from passing cars on the street when you’re just trying to get to the bus stop after school, the idea of there being one, in a bespoke suit descending from a carriage to escort you to a fancy party doesn’t seem like a thing that could happen in real life.”
Poverty and power
Lesbian Bed Death, is made up entirely of one-liners (“Sure, sex is fun, but have you ever deeply related to a nihilist meme?”) while Late 1900s Time Capsule tells Irby’s back story in the form of cover notes for her dream mix tape (some really good picks here).
It’s not all sex (or lack thereof) and bodily emissions. Irby makes many on-the-nose points about poverty, power, sexism and what it’s like to be an overweight black woman, married to a white woman, living in a red state in Trump’s America. Beneath the humour in Country Crock – Irby’s take on her life-changing move from Chicago to Kalamazoo – the author speaks of the well-founded fears she has for herself and her non-traditional family.
“I mean, I talk a lot of shit and everything, but I’m a doughy creature, and I live with a lady who cans her own pickles and can’t fight. I can’t be out there defending the mainstream media against people wearing LOCK HER UP T-shirts. I mean we just put a canoe rack on our Honda. I’m starting the paperwork to make our male cat an emotional support animal. There’s no way we’re getting out of a Freedom Headlock.”
The humour is so vivid, with so many laugh-out-loud moments, there’s a real danger that the excellence of Irby’s writing could be obscured. Is the writing perfect? Not by any means, but it gets to the heart of each issue with aplomb. It is a very human book and it left me wanting more of Irby and her work.
Estelle Birdy’s debut novel, Ravelling, will be published by Lillipout Press next year.