“I often think about what a gross monster I am.”
Samantha Irby is no stranger to writing about the messiest corners of her life, the ones with a little spilled Diet Coke and a few inopportune stomach aches. She continues down this tragi-comedic path in her latest collection, Wow, No Thank You. Irby is 40 now and grappling with what it means to be a lot of things that supposedly describe her: married, stepmother, perimenopausal, and still funny. Looking back with laughter and glancing forward terrified, Irby jokes/works through it all, sometimes even while wearing real pants.
Wow, No Thank You. By Samantha Irby. Vintage. 2020. Paperback.
How did I get the book?
I discovered Irby’s writing in Adam Wilson’s humor class at Columbia. We read Irby’s essay about having to defecate on the side of the road in traffic during a blizzard. Trust me, it’s great. When I noticed her latest collection on a stack of free books at my internship, I immediately shoved it under my arm.
You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!
What did I think?
Despite having “bestselling author” on the cover of her books, Samantha Irby is still confused by her existence. “I am neither beautiful nor smart,” she writes. “My most impressive skill is being able to quietly shit in unexpected places.” She is now overwhelmed by her success, too, wondering how she went from working jobs where the greatest perk was finding expired Swiss Miss in the break room to now being able to keep the lights on without breaking her budget. This imposter syndrome radiates charmingly across Irby’s third collection as she fears people are going to realize she often spends days getting dressed just to rifle through Twitter and stop following her. She adds, “I feel compelled to apologize for being a disaster to people who would probably just wish I’d shut the fuck up.”
But it is Irby’s candidness that wins over her readers, the moments where she admits that she would rather be online than almost anywhere in person (“When is the last time an actual human interaction made you laugh more than a meme did?”) and is frustrated by her body, albeit over trying to change it (“Cellulite creams and washes and massagers seem like marginally fun wastes of money that you could otherwise spend on a jumbo popcorn at the movies.”) Irby’s reoccurring fascinations—the inability to connect her Bluetooth speakers to her phone, subscribing to vitamin delivery services, her wife’s crystal collection—and use of lists to make her points render her endlessly delightful, even and especially when she is complaining.
What sets this collection apart from Irby’s previous work, however, are the moments where she allows herself to be vulnerable in understanding her maturity. “All I wanted for myself at twenty-seven was to go to clubs and drink Coronas and watch people awkwardly flirting with each other while hoping that someone would flirt with me,” she writes. “Sometimes I get super tender when I think about how dumb and naive my child self was, and I wish I could go back and hug her while also reminding her to tuck in her shirt.” Irby also understands relationships better now that she is married. “I have often listened to the words a person I was in love with said to me and ignored what they actually meant,” she admits. “It’s totally unfair to make a flesh-and-bone person compete against an imaginary ideal that was imprinted on you when you were too young to understand what was happening.” The uncharted territory now for Irby is parenting as she worries in equal measure about whether or not she is too old to tape posters on the walls of the house she co-owns and if listening to classic rock instead of NPR in the car will damage her stepchildren. Most poignantly, however, she wonders, “Am I so worried about having a negative impact on them that I won’t end up having an impact at all?” *gulp* Self-reflection is great and scary.
🌟 4.5/5 — Great Plus
Reading Samantha Irby’s work feels like dipping into your favorite WhatsApp group chat or flipping through Close Friends posts on Instagram stories. She is never afraid to tell you the thing you might be too afraid to tell yourself. Sometimes this comes in the form of self-acceptance, on which she writes, “Loving yourself is a full-time job with shitty benefits. I’m calling in sick.” Sometimes it comes in pointing out her own flaws, admitting, “I turn everything into a fucking joke and then bury it in a shallow grave in whatever part of the mind something you never want to think about ever again goes.” But she always keeps it real. “Neither I nor ANYONE I HAVE EVER MET has reached that mythical age at which you ‘stop caring about things,’” Irby writes, making the reader feel like it is okay if they never reach that stage, either.
If you want to jump around the collection, go with: “Love and Marriage” written in the form of an advice column for couples (Irby delivers the harsh but honest truth that “settling” is “a coarse way of saying ‘adjusting my expectations’”); “Hysterical!,” which originally appeared in Gay Magazine and brilliantly illustrates the challenges of living with an unruly menstrual cycle; and “Lesbian Bed Death” that lists all the things that might be better than sex, among them a trip to Target and eating soup—I felt so beautifully seen.
Beyond the book.
Irby reads the audiobook edition of the collection, which might be one of the best ways to experience it. She was also interviewed for NPR back when the book was released in the springtime. It is just the conversation you didn’t know you needed to hear to brighten up your day.
Also, if you want to take a deep-dive into the work that started Irby’s career, you can check out her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. Yes, she still has one, and it’s definitely worth it.
See you again soon!