I read and loved Lindy West’s (she/her) two previous works of nonfiction: Shrill and Shit, Actually. The first was West’s memoir, in which she uses humor to share her story, including her abortion, the death of her father, and analyzing and criticizing how lazy stand-up comics have gotten by repeatedly punching down. The second was a collection of commentary, in which she, “…rated every movie in said book on a scale of zero to ten DVDs of The Fugitive.” Given that West is only three years older than me, I enjoyed myself and the nostalgia that came with her digging through 90s films and pointing out the absurdity of many that we love. I laughed a lot.
But The Witches Are Coming was written largely in response to Donald Trump’s claims that everything he’s accused of doing that he doesn’t like is the result of a witch hunt. He used that phrase so many times it became meaningless, in my opinion. Here’s the problem: Trump isn’t that far behind in the rear-view mirror, so criticisms of Trump feel more like a rehashing of what we just lived through (and are still processing and recovering from . . . and also dealing with the fallout of). In the first few essays, I caught myself having “yeah, yeah, yeah” moments, which translates to “move it along, I know all of this.” You may be thinking, “But Melanie, what if someone reading The Witches Are Coming doesn’t know all of this?” Well, West acknowledges that she knows the kind of person who reads her book, and it’s people who are liberal. Like me.
But I noticed over the course of the three days that I was reading The Witches Are Coming that I was fixating on every political conversation in my extended family that ended in frustrating disappointment. Comments about race, religion, abortion, immigration, welfare, and the pandemic. Comments that are so ignorant it’s not even worth engaging with them. My brain circled the drain, remember what was said, who said it, how the conversation could have gone differently, what was said, who said it, etc. Round and round while I did the dishes and organized my office and ate my Cheerios and while I typed this blog post (and a couple of other posts before it). While I petted my cat. While I talked to Biscuit.
Fixating is a curse of anxiety, and every time the mental toilet water swirls, the murky brown water starts to rise instead of going down the drain. To “flush” my toilet, so to speak, I switched back to listening to The Storyteller by Dave Grohl. The chapter was a lovely tale about him leaving Australia immediately after a concert to fly back to his two daughters in the U.S. for a special dance that demonstrates he’s a reliable dad and then two hours later leaving for the airport again, getting on the plane, suffering food poisoning while making the twenty-hour flight again to get back to Perth just in time for a sound check to put on a Foo Fighters show (*panting to catch my breath*) warmed my heart. Please get this audiobook and listen to it; Dave Grohl is good people. I felt better.
Sorry, The Witches Are Coming, but I needed to plunge you instead of reading through what is both confirmation bias (I agree with what she’s writing) and a one-trick pony. What do I mean? A cool story about her husband playing trumpet (“…one might describe the trumpet as a machine where you put in compressed air and divorce comes out…”) turns into how failing to acknowledge privilege leads to racism. A funny piece about a home renovation TV show with a formula for success (“Cover every surface in ‘shiplap,’ which is expensive for ‘boards'”) turns to whether we should investigate the show hosts’ moral compass based on the church they attend. Perhaps West feels that her platform obligates her to comment on racism, sexism, gender bias, sizeism, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, poverty, privilege, and propaganda (…not really a mention of disability that I recall…). But when the book is preaching to the choir about all the things that make them angry, I wonder what it’s really meant to achieve. Is it the job of the comic writer to turn all humor into the political battlefield?
DNF at 70%
CW: abortion, racism, homophobia, transphobia