Alibi V.26 No.37 • Sept 14-20, 2017 

Book Review

Getting to Know Samantha Irby

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life inspires the desire to ... meet in real life

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

Samantha Irby

I've loved the curmudgeonly Samantha Irby since my friend Michael showed me her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, on a winter night in Indiana back in like, 2008. Like a fine wine, Irby's self-deprecation and scatological humor has only gotten better with age. In her second collection of essays, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, she's at a peak; who knows where her impolite and deeply honest musings will next transcend.

Irby is a rare sort of talent. In the 300 or so pages of her book, she approaches with acute insight and mercilessly deft language hefty topics like what it means to be a black woman struggling with mental health issues with just as much attention as she brings to an essay on wearing a strap-on dildo for the first time. That's part of the charm of this collection—the sheer variety of real-life concerns, all approached with the same unflinching realness. There's essays here that outline the abuse inflicted by her father, as well as one that hilariously ruminates on what to do with his cremains. There are essays about her battle with Crohn's Disease that evocate the grossest parts of the illness, just as there are personal stories that provide avenues to discussion of American society, culture and politics (and inherent racism, classism and sexism). That Irby makes these topics truly felt as much as possible means that they are accessible—providing an opportunity for understanding the world as someone else knows it.

Usually, this has the effect of making the reader laugh (occasionally, it also has the effect of making us cringe or cry, too). Irby writes vividly (“no matter how many times my father jumped gleefully from the wagon into a waist-deep river of cheap brandy and two-dollar steaks, Dr. Weiss would take him back, crack open his ribs, and scrape some more corrosion off the rotting meatfist in the center of his chest”) and with wonderful directness [“I do not like conspicuous men.” (me either)]. And with poignancy, as in the following passage, which is one example of many that distills systemic ills down to their fundamentals with a sort of rough tenderness that I so admire in these essays. As a teenager, and through adult life, Irby has struggled with severe depression. In her essay “A Total Attack of the Heart,” she writes: “When I was young I was frequently described as 'moody.' Or dismissed as 'angry.' According to the social worker who routinely pulled me out of class, I was intellectually bright but 'quietly hostile.' … I was diagnosed as having 'an attitude problem.' The Black Girl curse. So I rocked with that. When you're a kid it's sometimes just easier to go along with other people's definitions of who you are. They're adults, right? So they're smarter? I would listen to this Faith No More tape on my Walkman … over and over while sulking and looking morose or whatever it is poor kids get to do when we have no access to semiautomatic firearms or prescription drugs. It was the only thing I could do to make it to the next goddamned day.”

If those 100 words don't make you want to read every page of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, maybe this recommendation will: Samantha Irby is one of the most important humorists alive. Read her blog, read her first book, read her second, read it all.