Irby’s collections have been on my radar since I started getting more into short story/essay collections. Everything I’d read about them was unanimous in commentary on how funny she was and honestly, if there was ever a year/time that needed more comedic relief, it’s this one. So, as you all know by now is normal procedure for me, I went ahead and put myself on the waitlist for this one at the library. Considering that this is neither her first nor most recent collection, I cannot tell you what made me want to pick it up first, but I was to say that title really spoke deeply to the introvert in me, and that was likely the subconscious deciding factor.
This collection covers quite a bit, breadth-wise, from Irby’s life. We learn about her (tumultuous) childhood and parents, the few years she spent in college, her stable (but not very glamorous) post-not-finishing-college job in a vet clinic, her love of tv binges and unhealthy foods, her attempts at dating and being a “less trash” person, finding and making big moves (like literally, to different states and lifestyles) with her now-wife, and more.
My first and main reaction is that Irby is absolutely and completely as humorous as advertised. There’s something about the balance she strikes in cutting cultural insight, personal honesty mixed with self-deprecation, and a perfectly snarky delivery (with very well-used profanity) of what could be pretty good stories that makes them into fantastically entertaining essays. I laughed out loud a few times, including at the opening piece (a sarcastically real Bachelorette application), various devil-inspired names she has (had) for her cat Helen, her description of eating all the hors devours at a wedding (let’s be honest, we all do it), the cost-benefits analysis of the internet’s top tips for saving money, and the “skills” she describes in her application for a new job (based on her very specific experiences at the vet hospital). There is also, as I’ve come to recognize as a pretty frequent staple of humor collections/comedian memoirs, the requisite awkward sexual encounter and poop-related stories. They were good, and honestly some of the most unique iterations of that topic that I’ve read yet, but are never a personal favorite for me. I also recognized quite a few things we had in common, like preferring to look at the beauty of nature rather than be in it and a wish to be able to mainly just spend time alone at home binging tv (or books, for me) and never put on real pants.
I also want to mention some of the moments where things get more real. Irby does a phenomenal job addressing some really difficult topics alongside the funny, in a way that makes you really consider and empathize, but doesn’t quite overtake the hilarity. In that respect, it’s very similar to another essay collection that I loved, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (who, incidentally, blurbs this book on the back cover). Anyways, I love love love the way that Irby’s bisexuality is so naturally woven into the essays – it’s just so…normal…and that’s not something that usually happens and definitely not with this kind of straightforward casualness. That was great. And as it should be. She also really is able to focus in on some long term affects of the trauma of her childhood instability (poverty, parents with chronic illness and substance misuse/addiction) and more pervasive traumas like being a Black woman in America, her (lack of) financial awareness and self-control, her diet, lots of anxieties and interpersonal relationship issues, health and mental health struggles, and more. The way she draws a clear line between what in public health are called ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the increased likelihood of health and other issues in adulthood is spectacular and heart-breaking. Irby also makes the realities and difficulties of living with chronic illness understandable in, again, a very humorous and accessible way. Also, there was one essay with a beautiful message about not having to ever be grateful for sex, no matter what you weigh, what you look like, etc. – that one just really got me with what an important and, really, never-addressed point it is.
Long story short: again and again the way Irby intertwines legitimate laugh out loud humor (and IDGAF self-acceptance) with serious topics and legit messages and heartfelt realities (and genuine attempts to be a “better” version of herself) made this a wonderfully entertaining and full-of-feeling reading experience. If you are looking to lighten the mood but still experience some emotional stirrings, this book is exactly what you need.
A few quotes that stuck out to me:
“I prefer to admit my inadequacies to assholes who can relate.”
“I have always been sexually attracted to both men and women, although the sex part is more of an afterthought for me.” (I’ve never, literally never, read anything that so succinctly and accurately captures my personal relationship with sex and sexual attraction.)
“Real love […] feels safe and steadfast and predictable and secure. It’s boring as shit. And it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever felt.” (THIS. I LOVE THIS SO, SO MUCH.)