A Review of Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You
September 29, 2020 § 1 Comment
by Liv Mammone
In an interview with Lindy West, Samantha Irby stated that the working title for Wow, No Thank You was Dying Is Fine. The book has a picture of a very fluffy, floppy-eared rabbit on the cover while her original vision was a hissing possum. As someone who bought this book purely on the arched eyebrow I heard reading the title, I can’t overstate my fury at her publishers for not keeping either of those decisions. I think they better express both the book’s overarching emotional state and why it has quite literally kept me from emotional collapse during this year that seems like it is actively trying to destroy us all so we as a species will stop decimating everything in our path. Consider these lines from Irby’s opening essay, “Into the Gross.”
“I like to wake up naturally, gripped by a heart-pounding panic as the sun slices through my eyelids at noon, when it is perfectly aligned with my bedroom windows. I wince against the sun’s garish rays, a sick feeling spreading through me. It dawns on me that I have already wasted an entire day. AGAIN. I grimace loudly.”
In 2019 that was hyperbolic. This year? Many of us are right there. As someone with a chronic illness, I have been for several years. Even the notion of the body’s motions being loud is both a wry turn of phrase and a truism.
There are things I have in common with Samantha Irby and things I don’t. She can name each Real Housewife of New York. I want each of those women guillotined and their wealth redistributed. I love cartoon reruns for comfort. We come from different races and class backgrounds. We have different body types and traumas. I live with both parents while she lost both of hers young. But we both have shaved heads to control the dandruff that can get into our eyelashes. We both have depression and anxiety. We’re both bi. We both have boundless appreciation for 90’s music.
The difference I’m grateful for is while my disability has turned me into an overachieving self-punisher obsessed with external validation through hard work, Irby’s experiences of childhood neglect and of trying to speed date while wearing an adult diaper have made her “okay with just being okay.” When I read the sentence “I don’t do anything hard, because my life has already been hard” my outlook changed. I was staggered by the plain shamelessness of that statement.
Even two years ago, I would have been more than a little superior about Irby’s flat insistence that she’s “never related to someone whose main goal wasn’t just getting a table at a good restaurant and being able to pay for it.” I would have asked if elongated written memes like “Hello, 911?” where she details all her social horrors (“Hello, 911? I am unwittingly at the mall with my skinny rich friend and she insists that I follow her into Anthropologie […] Hello, 911? I have to cancel an appointment.”) and her honesty about loving “STUFF” like lipsticks and expensive soap were really saying anything. This would have been some serious privilege and self hating ableism on my part. Yes, she openly cops to her first book growing out of a blog she only started to have a shot with a guy who was dating a poet. If you’re looking for something about laughing so as not to cry in defiance of tragedy and oppression, something with metaphorical sad piano over it, keep moving. Even the details of Irby’s traumas are only referenced here. They have been spelled out in previous books. Though her subjects–food, bad dates, house sitting for rich people as a teenager, the culture shock of her white hippie wife and stepchildren, and her evil cat–have been mined in previous books, she is not interested in rehashing the hard past. The context around her writing has changed. Here’s how she herself describes her work, dishing on the experience of writing and pitching a pilot.
“How does this fit into a comedy, you ask? Honestly, I’m not 100 percent sure. I’ve managed to make a career out of LOL, I SHIT MY PANTS […] More important than that, even if it’s not knee-slapping funny, it would mean a lot to me to put chronic illness in people’s faces, especially the silent kind that you might not even know a person is struggling through. I bet if you met me on the street, you wouldn’t automatically think ‘sick,’ but if you looked at my last CT scans you would, and I want to represent for all my people taking twelve pills a day with bald joints and intestines lined with scar tissue.”
I expected “you wouldn’t think ‘sick’” to be more front and center in this collection because that’s what I’ve been taught to expect of life writing: the challenge, the fight, the resilience. It’s what I expect of myself. And yes, the author does speak to her diseases. But she would much rather talk about the Bachelorette. Rather than a harrowing piece about her diagnosis with Crohn’s, she tosses this image off.
“I’m not saying I haven’t explosive diarrhea while holding up my ill-fitting sequined skirt with both hands, party clutch full of valet stubs and coat check tickets clenched between my teeth, while a line of drunk party animals whine collectively because there’s only one stall.”
Sure, that’s funny. But it also is just the ins and outs truth of her life. Samantha Irby knows her worth beyond the borders of the page. So she has written a book, Wow, No Thank You, about the right to do only what you can. She offers microwavable recipes and admits she can’t eat nachos or live in a house. Not everyone will take her no-frills diction and rooted humor seriously–their loss. Under the fed up groan and flippant exhaustion, this is a book about stillness; about cutting ourselves some slack while still taking unexpected opportunities to be loved, heard, and full.
Liv Mammone is an editor and poet from Long Island, New York. Her poetry has appeared in wordgathering, monstering, Wicked Banshee, The Medical Journal of Australia, and others. In 2017, she competed team for Union Square Slam as the first disabled woman to be on a New York national poetry slam team and appeared in the play The Fall of All Atomic Angels as part of a festival that was named Best of Off Off Broadway by Time Out Magazine. She was also a finalist in the Capturing Fire National Poetry Slam in Washington DC. Her editorial job on Uma Dwivedi’s poetry collection They Called her Goddess; we Named her Girl, was nominated for a Write Bloody book award. She is also the editor of the speculative fiction series Margins and Murmurations by author and activist, Otter Lieffe. Currently, she works as an editor at Game Over Books and a reader for the literary magazine Anomaly.
This Blog essay is part of our September 2020 special focus on Experiences of Disability. Read our guest-edited special issue of the magazine for more.