The Flannery O’Connor short story read-along will start on Friday, May 1st. I’m reading through her Complete Stories collection, but if you want to join in for just a story or two, please do so! The reading schedule and when I’ll be posting reviews (so you can jump in the comments section if you’ve read one of the stories that week) can be found HERE.
Samantha Irby’s third comedic memoir, Wow, No Thank You was just published. What a relief! Her humor is a gift amid a terrifying pandemic. Before I get into things, I would recommend that you read Irby’s memoirs in order. Her first, Meaty, explains how Irby was raised by an elderly mother who had health issues that forced Irby to become a caretaker, affecting her high school grades and attempt to go to college. Her father was an absent alcoholic, and she grew up in poverty. Irby’s childhood is an important foundation to her personality as an adult. The second memoir, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, describes the death of her father and meeting a woman who later became her wife. As her chronic illnesses worsen, Irby’s rejected by partners who want a “normal” life. Again, this part of her life, transitioning from dismissed for her disabilities to monogamy, is important to fully getting into Wow, No Thank You. Can you read each book as a stand-alone? Yes, but you’ll be missing out on important development.
In Wow, No Thank You, Irby is the step-mother of two white children now that she’s married to her white wife. She’s moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, a place I know well — not only do I live nearby, but I visit often to see cousins and an aunt. And I even saw Samantha Irby do a reading there! Kalamazoo is a liberal city with a robust downtown, a huge craft brewery scene, and loads of art fairs and farmers’ markets. They have live music and a river walk. Western Michigan University, with around 21,500 students, is in Kalamazoo. Michigan itself was a blue state thanks to huge union support from the auto industries in Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids. However, Michigan flipped and went for Trump in the last election, and Irby captures all this strangeness in Wow, No Thank You.
While her feelings about Kalamazoo can be hilarious, at one point claiming the deer are so brazen they’ll rifle through your junk mail if you turn your back, she also confirms that a man in a movie theater said he would shoot her if she texted during the film. Yes, Kalamazoo is liberal but it lacks the diversity of Chicago, where Irby had lived her whole life. The experience of being exposed to a new environment is captured in a way that any “new kid in town” can relate to but also notes the absurdities of liberals who are self-righteous rather than intersectional in their thinking.
Not only is Kalamazoo different from Chicago, but Irby’s financial struggles and her wife’s put-together life clash:
I grew up poor, so I know all about those meals where your daily servings of grain, protein, and vegetables are all mixed together in the same murky chicken water. . . .
My lady handed me a bottle of home dressing, which, for the uninitiated, is something people who grow up in loving families that put limits on the TV make. “It’s cute you think I’m going to eat this unsalted vinegar spray on this bowl of damp lawn clippings you’re trying to serve me, but no, ma’am, I will not.”
Several essays describe trying to avoid meeting the neighbors, how to be an uninvolved step-mother so she doesn’t mess up the lovely children, making friends as an adult, and home upkeep — something Irby never worried about living in her closet-sized apartment in Chicago. The trademark embarrassing scenes and generalized fear that cause her to be as stationary as possible through the day are all there in glorious, hilarious wonder.
Best of all, there appears to be a shift in Irby’s attitude about fat bodies. In the past, I cringed every time she used the expression “meat beard,” but readers don’t get that here. Instead, Irby points out that despite her anxiety, depression, joint issues, reproductive organ malfunctions, and Crohn’s disease, her doctors only listen to her if she’s lost weight or ask how to lose weight. As an avid pop-culture fan, Irby decides to draw the line on how fat bodies are portrayed:
I can’t watch This is Us because . . . in the first couple of episodes the fat girl doesn’t get to be much more than “fat,” and wow, no thank you! Maybe there are fat people sitting around silently weeping about being fat every minute of every day, but that is a redemptive arc thin people like to see on television, and it’s just not the fucking truth.
And though I had heard of the famous fat-girl pool scene from the Hulu show based on Lindy West’s book Shrill, I hadn’t realized Samantha Irby wrote that episode! An entire essay is dedicated to how she got involved on the show, what it’s like to be a nervous fat person in Los Angeles, and how writing over an extended period of time is not how Irby works. Everything from the desert heat to having an assistant to bring her things intimidates Irby, bringing her past homelessness and having utilities shut off into sharp contrast.
Though Wow, No Thank You lacks the deeper sad moments from her previous books, this latest installment is still a winner to bring you out of your pandemic funk.