i read this book because it was free, blurbed by jenny lawson, and it had a cat on the cover, thus combining three of my favorite things.
i am not blog-savvy, so i’d never heard of the author before, but i needed a nonfiction title to read for this month, and i really really needed something funny, so this seemed to be the perfect choice, and finding another funny lady-writer for the future would just be icing on the cake.
i think if i had read her first book or followed her blog, i would have gotten into this one more easily; that inevitable carry-over appreciation/indulgence would have been in the background as i read this. she has certain writerly idiosyncrasies, like invoking imaginary people in the second person, “your aunt Karen,” “ your grandma’s favorite adhesive bandages,” “your recently retired fifth-grade teacher” that threw me for a loop at first, but i think the bigger problem is that our funny bones just don’t align.
the first essay is her filled-out application for the television show The Bachelorette, which she loves. i’m 90% sure this was just for her own use and she never actually submitted it, which is too bad, because i think it would have been a more interesting essay if she had gone through the interview process after filling out the forms with these honest/humorous responses.
Name: Samantha McKiver Irby
Age: 35ish (but I could pass for forty-seven to fifty-two, easily; sixtysomething if I stay up all night)
Gender: passably female
etc etc etc down to the longer responses
Have you ever had a temporary restraining order issued against someone or had one issued against you? If so, please give details and dates:
No, but when I was nineteen, I used to stalk this dude I went to high school with. I would close up the bread shop where I worked, take one of the loaves that was intended for donation to the soup kitchen, then drive my car to his parent’s house and park close enough to see inside, but far enough away to be inconspicuous. Then I would sit there with the engine running, tearing off chunks of apple-cinnamon bread and listening to De La Soul while imagining our life together.
I am a deeply troubled person.
Are you genuinely looking to get married, and why?
Honestly? I don’t know, homie. Marriage seems so hard. I mean, even the ones on television look like they just take so much goddamned work. I’m lazy. Plus, getting out of one seems ridiculously expensive. And then when you get divorced, after all of the crying and draining of mutual bank accounts before your partner gets a chance to, you have to cut the children in half, which is probably very bloody and messy. You know, what I really need is someone who remembers to rotate this meaty pre-corpse toward the sun every couple of days and tries to get me to stop spending my money like a goddamn NBA lottery pick.
it’s about ten pages of that. and it just doesn’t speak to my personal sense of humor. it was trying too hard, feels too contrived overall, and as an introduction to her as a writer, it was not promising. it’s hard to articulate what i do find funny; it’s hard for anyone, i reckon. it’s a purely visceral response, but what i like about jenny lawson, for example is how…unexpected she is. i laugh almost as a startled response to something i hadn’t seen coming, in love with the way her mind makes connections.
i didn’t hate the essay—in fact, this response tickled my high-five response, if not my laughter-mechanism:
Please describe your ideal mate in terms of physical attraction and in terms of personality attraction.
Physical attraction? Not a real thing. If, at thirty-six years old, I’m sitting over here talking about chiseled abs and perfect teeth, then I am undeserving of genuine romantic love. I have slept with a handful of conventionally attractive humans, the prettiest of whom was this dude who worked at Best Buy and kind of resembled “So Anxious”-era Ginuwine. He was boring and lazy and totally caught off guard when I pointed those facts out to him. No one ever tells attractive children how much they suck, and then the rest of us get stuck with insufferable, narcissistic adults who can barely tie their shoes because someone else is busy either doing it for them or congratulating them on their effort. I do not have the energy to be in a relationship with someone exceptionally good-looking.
the rest of the book is better than that opening essay, but it’s not really a collection of humor pieces, just broadly biographical essays about the men she dated, the woman she married, betrayals of the body that led to her pooping in the snow on the side of a traffic-jammed road or having an anxiety attack in a subway parking lot. they all have humorous bits in them, but also a lot of failed relationships, a suicide attempt, racism, homophobia, abuse, chronic health conditions, and death. the piece entitled “happy birthday” is the blackest of ironies. her humor is deployed as a kind of shield, joking about the deaths of her parents and about the man who came to fix the toilet when she was thirteen and presented his penis to her:
“You wanna touch it?” he offered hopefully.
“Oh, no, thank you!” I replied with a forced cheerfulness, like I was at a friend’s house turning down his mom’s offer of a second helping of peas. (JUST GET TO THE DESSERT, DIANE.)
“No? Really?!” he asked in disbelief. “Not even a chubby girl like you?”
What does that even mean? It’s not like he was standing there holding a warm loaf of banana bread—I might have taken him up on that. But it was just an old, semi-flaccid pervert penis: What the fuck did my chubby have to do with his chubby?!
so, yeah, there’s humor, but it’s not always ha-ha humor; there’s a squirm to it. and i was in no way emotionally prepared to read the penultimate essay, in which she euthanized her cat helen keller, with whom she’d had an antagonistic relationship throughout the book, and even though i understand joking through pain and the difference between what you present to your audience and what you feel in your heart, it was less than a month after my most beloved maggie was herself euthanized, and even though there was a touching farewell moment in the essay, there was also some wisecracking and humor-armor, and i was absolutely not in the right headspace to handle dying-cat humor.
for the most part, i enjoyed this book, even though it wasn’t the hilarious jaunt i’d been expecting to take my mind off of stuff and things. it’s voicey as fuck, which i appreciate, and we share a lot of the same ideas about the glory of junk food (Weight Watchers is for quitters who are in denial about how good ribs taste), the pleasures of solitude, the horrors of exercise, the tyranny of summer (Wouldn’t you rather be dead than hot?), the way that jobs involving politeness to the public at large are soul-grinding, and even though we are never meeting in real life, i think we’d share a lot of common ground and have some laughs together, regardless of what she says on the matter.
but if we ever DID meet in real life, the first thing i would say to her would be “WHAT’S NUMBER TWO??” because in the essay a total attack of the heart, you will find the following:
Two things happened that forced me to finally have the “sometimes I have a disproportionately rage-filled response to otherwise harmless shit” talk with my doctor. (1) I was at work and the worst person in the world came in to buy dog food.
and the anecdote goes on from there and then broadens into generalities without ever getting back to (2). it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop—FOREVER.
but she made up for it by stating the truest truth of them all:
…Easter has the best candy, so of course it was my favorite. To this day, I weep like a child when those purple bags of Cadbury Mini Eggs show up in the Walgreens seasonal aisle at the first dawn of spring.
so, a positive three-
stars cats from me, with the expectation that you (and your aunt judy) will like it even more…