Samantha Irby first became popular when her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, gained attention. She claims she originally started a blog because she was interested in a guy who was interested in writers. She said she was a writer (she wasn’t), and went home to start Bitches Gotta Eat so she wouldn’t be a liar. While things didn’t work out, a friend encouraged Irby to continue writing on her blog. Without marketing or trying to get attention, the blog blew up. I like that the blog has no caps and neon letters, giving it a specific tone through visuals, which is missing in the books. Click the link and see for yourself.
The essays on her blog turned into a book titled Meaty, which was published by the tiny press Curbside Splendor in 2013.
I’m familiar with Curbside’s work because I know the small-press scene, but most don’t. Irby claims the book wasn’t edited, and one essay abruptly stopped (the end got accidentally cut off!). After she published We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, her second collection of essays, with Vintage in 2017, they re-released Meaty after editing it and adding more material.
Based on the posts I read on Bitches Gotta Eat, I knew Irby was hilarious. Her new Meaty book starts out that way, too. It’s word gymnastics in some places, hilarious diction in others, and great imagery. She admits, “The pants I’m wearing right this second have a hole in le snatch.” She’s a fat woman, so she warns “. . .if I was ever to be rescued from a goddamned tower, Prince Charming better have done some motherfucking push-ups beforehand.” Although Irby is a black woman, she almost never writes about race. Well, except in one essay that has a letter to white people and a letter to black people. In a few sentences, she criticizes white institutions:
The only black vegans I can think of are the ones dodging the bags of donated oatmeal raining down on them from Red Cross helicopters, but I love that about you guys.
She does the same of the black community:
I love you because, in case you didn’t know, every third black person you meet is an unofficial scorekeeper in life’s never-ending game: “Are you black enough to be black?”
As you can see already, her vocab won’t make some readers happy. Sometimes, cursing really fits the horror of the situation, especially when Irby discusses her Crohn’s disease, which affects the entire digestive system and can kill you if your intestines get bad enough. How do you date and have Crohn’s? Well, Irby isn’t completely clear on that because, as she says, “I’m not sure if there is anything less beautiful than a woman with a jammed-up colon limping along ten feet behind you while shitting an adult diaper.” Dating often doesn’t work well for Irby. In fact, I’m not clear she wants to date long-term because many of her essays are about sexual situations that were embarrassing. As a result, some of the essays felt repetitive, which wore the humor thin.
It’s not all funny, though. Irby covers her childhood, about which I knew nothing. Irby was accidentally conceived when her mother was forty and her father fifty. Then, her father, an alcoholic, left. The result is Irby cares for her aging mother, like most of us will do/did in our forties, not while we are in high school. For years, Irby hid her mom’s deteriorating condition, which should have landed her in a nursing home. This involved dodging social services, teachers, and staying awake in school. When her mom inevitably dies, Irby is homeless at eighteen.
While I hear about “adulting” — and yes, being an adult is hard — I didn’t realize that when Irby writes that she can’t “adult,” she means she played the adult when she was a child and now has no foundation. She acknowledges psychological issues as a result, which one would expect.
Samantha Irby is hard on herself, especially her self-professed laziness and her body. In one essay, she describes the flaws of her body, starting with her right foot and ending with her face, in bulleted lists . . . for five pages. I couldn’t help but notice our flaws are similar, except she is so nasty to herself that I felt bad about myself. Our bodies are only awful when we claim they are. Instead of saying she has extra flesh on her neck because she’s fat, she calls it a “meatbeard.” Oy.
I do recommend this as a humor collection and for the more serious essays. But, I would recommend reading one essay per day, as if Samantha Irby were still posting on her blog. Know there is graphic language, and there’s a lot of man hating in this book when Irby describes her sexual experiences. Know it’s cruel to the writer, who comes from a scary beginning.