In her latest collection of essays, Wow, No Thank You., Samantha Irby details life now that she’s forty, married, and living in the Midwest with her wife. Though (spoiler alert) depression has followed her from Chicago, Irby’s collection shows a little more vulnerability and a little less deflection than her previous books. She has a way of making you feel close to her. Despite proclaiming that much of her work (including her previous books Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life) has been primarily “about butts,” Irby delivers essays in Wow, No Thank You that are pithy, laugh-until-you-bend-over-funny and insightful.
Irby’s signature sardonic voice nibbles playfully at your ear from the first page, where she dedicates the collection to Wellbutrin. The opening piece begins with Irby’s take on lifestyle bloggers who keep $300 eye cream, “tossed so casually on [their] nightstand like [they] wouldn’t even cry if [they] lost it.” It’s understood that it would be natural to cry, like Irby does, if our cream that cost as much as a third of rent went missing. She has a way of convincing you that, though she’s not saying she is, she is right.
In “Love and Marriage,” Irby answers relationship questions the way we all need our friends to, but know they won’t. “Everything is boring. You’re boring,” Irby writes in response to a question about being acquainted with young people who are always “~on their phones~.” I mean… someone had to say it, right? There are bigger problems than phones at the dinner table. Like, for example, now that she lives in a house she must find the answer to conundrums such as, “that cherry tomato that rolled under the unreachable corner cabinet: what’s going to happen to it [?]”
The essays range in formal experiments from an hour-by-hour re-enactment of going out that is really a sneaky reflection on aging to a piece written in the form of a mixtape tracklist.
In the tracklist essay, “Late-1900s Time Capsule,” Irby gives an account of all her favorite jams from high school (from Alanis Morissette to Radiohead) that she won’t give up on. In between telling us about why the songs are so timelessly good, she narrates what she was like as a kid and what it was like growing up experiencing poverty and the death of both her parents. There’s an image of young Sam attending a summer school gym class with failed high school seniors aka “grown men with full beards,” which felt particularly illuminating. Of course that happened. Her buttons on the ends of essays are tight: “Flip the tape over. Play it again.”
Though she refuses to do research and continues to embarrass herself, this collection may be Irby’s best yet. She has moved on from the animal hospital where she worked for 14 years and her (devil) cat Helen is dead, but Irby now shares an office with a friend and is writing full time. She has no problems finding material—she even gets to pen a pilot and pitches a TV adaptation of Meaty with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson. “I have not lived the kind of life worth emulating!” she laments, and yet in this collection, she describes writing for Shrill—a Hulu adaptation of Lindy West’s book Notes From a Loud Woman—and details the start of her writing career. She gets gritty and messy but something tangible comes out of the struggle: the show has aired and her books are on shelves.
Notoriously “gross,” Irby’s writing hits new levels of emotional resonance in Wow, No Thank You with a kind of pulling back of the comedy curtain she writes behind. “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,” she writes, and it is this honesty that raises the stakes of the essays. What does it mean to know you’re a deflector, then admit it? Irby writes into these spaces with real, gutsy insights. The only truly nasty line in this collection is the reference to the “gooey, unpredictable blood bag of her uterus” but it’s her body, and she can damn well call it what she likes.
Irby writes, “Nothing is more embarrassing than unbridled enthusiasm” and yet that is what I have, unabashedly, for her. Irby in bed. Irby on the train. Irby in the bath. Irby all the time! She claims, “Living is a mistake and everything is trash.” And it might well be true…but at least she’s here living through it with us.