Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Quick Reminder:

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.

27 comments

  1. “a man in a movie theater said he would shoot her if she texted during the film. Yes, Kalamazoo is liberal”. You in the Mid-West apparently have a different idea of the word liberal to the one(s) I’m used to, but then Australia’s restrictive gun laws were introduced by one of our most conservative prime ministers.

    I’ve printed out your list of O’Connor stories, bookmarked the online list with links to pdfs of the stories and am ready to start reading (with The Barber)

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    • Kalamazoo was known as this very liberal place where people shop in the farmers market, bring their own cloth bags, plant community gardens, invest in art scenes, eat flax seeds, and bike to work. However, it’s still in a state in the Midwest, which is a place with “me first” values. For instance, despite my county being identified as a place for the potential to become a hotbed of COVID-19 infections, the mall is planning to re-open on Saturday because people have a “right” to go shopping for nonessential items if they want to.

      Guns are here. Guns are America. It’s horrifying. I once went into a gas station and a young man had a hand gun shoved down the front of his pants. Wasn’t robbing the place. Just waiting in line.

      With the rise of Trump, anyone harboring deep racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic feelings is now emboldened to say whatever they want, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the person in the movie theater fit into that category.

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    • I didn’t even comment on your O’Connor comment. I’m so glad you’ll be joining me, Bill, and look forward to reading your comments on my reviews (or your own reviews, if you planned to write them!). My goal is to create a space for readers to get into conversation with each other. THANK YOU!

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  2. Great review!! I am so excited to read Irby’s books; the excerpts you have included are wonderful. And that is so cool that Irby wrote the pool party episode of Shrill! I loved Shrill, and that episode was particularly moving and powerful.

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  3. Great review! I remember you reviewing the first book and having reservations. It’s interesting to see how the author’s writing has changed over the course of her memoirs. They sound absolutely hilarious! (And I’m pretty sure marketing them with cute animals on the covers is a genius move.)

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    • I get the feeling Irby has started surrounding herself with other talented fat women who work in writing and media, but it’s all come about since Irby became famous. One thing I’ve read repeatedly from fat activists is the best way to change a fatphobic person is to have them look at pictures of regular fat people living life. And keep looking — again and again and again. Our sense of what a body should look like is perverted by filters, editing, models as actors, and Instagram bodies.

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  4. Reading your review has gotten me even more excited to read this! The quotes you included were hilarious, but I could see why ‘meat beard’ would be offensive-ugh even typing it makes me cringe. And agreed re: This is Us-it just seems like an easy way out for character development, ya know?

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    • I don’t know much about This is Us, but I definitely want to rent Shrill now. It’s on Amazon for 99 cents per episode. The swimming pool scene was also referenced in Virgie Tovar’s newest book, so that episode truly made (ahem) a splash!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic review! Weirdly enough, I have never heard of Irby before and did not know this was already her THIRD memoir—I must rectify that immediately. It’s interesting that you can trace a shift in her attitude towards fat bodies. Some references fly over my head—may I ask what “meat beard” means, and why it’s offensive? I also cringed when I saw the word, but just because it sounds very crass.

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    • “Meat beard” is Irby’s way of saying double chin. It’s not commonly used — in fact, I’ve only heard her use it. It’s self-degrading, though. It looks like what happened is she got really popular with her first two books, so other fat women in writing and media approached her and befriended her, and now that she is surrounded by fat activists, she’s not contributing the problem and stereotypes of fat people being gross by default.

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        • I’m not even sure she would call herself a fat activist now. She seems early in her journey, that part where she’s getting mad about unrealistic portrays of fat women, but she’s not entirely schooled on the ways contributing to the problem are harmful. I may be SO wrong; I’m making assumptions based on what I’ve read in Irby’s books. In her first two books, she mostly seemed mean to herself.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, meat beard is such an unappealing term! I’m very glad she’s moved on from that in this book. It is also very disheartening that her doctors only seem to care about her weight, though as I’ve been reading more about medical practices I am sadly discovering that doctors seem to have a particular tendency to ignore what female patients are saying and focus instead on how they look (I’m thinking especially about invisible illnesses being dismissed if the patient LOOKS fine, or the focus shifting to, as Irby mentions, something more visible like weight).

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    • Every fat person I’ve met says the doctor asks about their weight when it’s not appropriate to do so. I’m also hearing fat women who have lost weight be praised for doing so when the methods they used were dangerous (anorexia, bulimia, laxatives, etc.). Thin women will get it from a different direction; they’re thin so the medical community sees health when there could be another issue going on. I feel like monitoring weight for rapid changes is a medical tool, but badgering people or ignoring them is dangerous. The medical community is just coming around on this issue.

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      • I completely agree, that sounds like exactly what I’ve been learning lately also. It’s a terrible way to proceed, so I hope this is an issue that’ll get more attention and see some resolution before long. Even as someone who’s very average weight for my height and age, things like this make me want to avoid going to doctors; I hate to think of what it does to people who really need medical help and can’t bring themselves to go in.

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  7. I loved reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I didn’t notice that I had missed anything by omitting Meaty, but I see your point. There is a real evolution Irby is exploring here. I hope that she continues to write and share these stories. I’ll definitely be reading Wow, No Thank You. in the future.

    I assume this was not an audiobook? I think you listened to the audiobook for We Are Never Meeting In Real Life? I dunno. It sticks out in my brain that I couldn’t get the audiobook and I was disappointed in my own reading experience — I felt like I lost some semblance of understanding where Irby was joking and where she wasn’t during my reading. I’ll be hunting down the audiobook for Wow, No Thank You.

    Speaking of the title– is that quote you shared above the one time she uses this phrase, or does it recur? Totally curious.

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    • Meaty is about how Irby’s sisters are so much older than she that it’s more like she had several mothers instead of siblings. Her mother was in her 40s when Irby was conceived, so Irby grows up being a caretaker as she watches her mother die. This is in high school, and the experience of becoming orphaned and then homeless shapes the way she sees everything else.

      I have paperback copies of all three books, so I’ve never done an Irby audio. The hard thing about her humor is that she’s being both funny and absolutely serious. So many bad things happen to her that she’s laughing, but they’re still bad.

      The quote I used is the only time she writes, “Wow, no thank you,” but Irby has a tendency to use “no thank you” frequently to basically say “no chance in hell.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha. That’s like women who say, “Bless your heart.” to mean “Go screw yourself.” I love it.

        Hm. I thought it was audio for some reason. I dunno. Maybe I’m just remember reflections of your attending her reading. Who knows! I’m mad. Mad I tell you! Mad. 😉

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        • Yes! I went to her reading in Kalamazoo and wrote a post about it. She now lives in K-zoo. I wonder how that book store is doing. It’s got a strong community base behind it. I’ve been trying to buy things from the lady in my town who owns a book store that only sells diverse children’s and YA novels. I can get what I want from her website and it’s shipped directly from the factory, but she gets a commission, so I like it.

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