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In the essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Bitches Gotta Eat blogger Samantha Irby uses a killer sense of humor to do battle with a life that undermines her almost every step of the way. There’s job crap, dating nonsense, homophobia (Irby’s bisexual), racism, self-esteem issues, and a body & mind plagued by illness. Her audience is anyone who enjoys Larry David, Nora Ephron, and Luvvie Ajayi; the depressed; the angry; the anti-social; those who are generally disappointed by life not meeting their extremely low expectations; or just anyone who wants to be taken on a hugely satisfying emotional journey. Irby shows you that someone else is having as tough a time of it as you are, maybe even tougher. And you know what they say about misery loving company.
The first chapter is a mini-autobiography disguised as an application to get on The Bachelorette, but Irby isn’t trying to be America’s new sweetheart or some perfect wife. She needs a partner who can love her
first thing in the morning. Also, when I’m drunk and refuse to shut up about getting McNuggets from the drive-thru. When I fall asleep in the middle of that movie you paid extra to see in IMAX. […] When I am blasting “More and More” by Blood Sweat & Tears at seven on a Sunday morning while cleaning the kitchen and fucking up your mom’s frittata recipe. […] When I beg you fourteen times to read something I’ve written, then get mad when you tell me what you don’t like about it and I call you an uneducated idiot piece of shit. Lovebird city.
She also takes the show to task for how it tries — laughably — not to seem racist. (“No, she’s never going to pick Marcus or Jonathan, but she will keep them on life support for however many episodes it takes to satisfy the NAACP.”) She imagines a more realistic show, one in which “elimination ceremonies are taking place in the bedroom.” (“Blows air into my vagina? NO ROSE.”) Irby gets us thinking about how not real reality TV is while we look on the ground for where our jaws have fallen.
Evil cats also piss Irby off, and she hilariously anthropomorphizes her own, a stinker named Helen Keller, in “The Miracle Porker.”
I hate this bitch and she hates me. … She eats and craps and scowls at me judgmentally from her perch atop my pillow, silently critiquing my outfit choices through narrowed eyes. (“Sure, you look good in that” — she’ll snarl at my elastic-waisted QVC jeans — “I mean, if you think so.”)
Helen is represented by the cat on the cover, and when you get a book with a cat on the cover, and a title that makes you think it’s going to be all about the Internet, you hardly expect to be punched in the guts by an essay called “Happy Birthday.” Here is Irby recalling how badly her father screwed over her ill mother:
The state was paying my mother’s nursing home rent to the tune of nine hundred dollars a month, and my dad figured that if he could somehow get her into his household, that money could be his. […] She needed a nurse. She needed a bed that she could raise and lower. She needed a feeding tube. She needed a call button and a daily doctor visit and occupational therapy because she couldn’t remember how to use her hands anymore and, for the nine hundred dollars my father had already gambled away on the lottery, she didn’t have any of those things.
In “Nashville Hot Chicken,” Irby imagines life if both her parents were still alive and it’s not a pretty picture. She believes she would be an adult living at home, connected by the womb to an emotionally manipulative mother, unable to pursue a proper romantic life, and dealing with a lying father who doesn’t stay around long enough to do much of anything. Obviously, she loved them, but there’s no denying life is easier when people who take so much out of you are gone. In that same chapter, Irby describes getting rid of her father’s ashes, and it’s like something out of a Mel Brooks’ movie. This is an author who is not afraid to say things you shouldn’t or look for humor in places you’re not supposed to. This is pure bravery on the page.
Language sticklers might take issue with Irby’s preference for long sentences. Reading one of them is like driving with someone who insists on taking the scenic route when a great shortcut is available, but eventually, you’ll likely come to appreciate her style.
Irby’s wife once tweeted something along the lines of “reading your book [Irby’s first one, Meaty] and never wanna stop.” I felt the same way about We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. And no, I may never meet Irby in real life, but I won’t stop hoping.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
By Samantha Irby
Vintage Books/Penguin Random House
Hardcover, 9781101912195, 288 pp.