Real Life Essays with a Little Raunch

Book review: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby is the Chicago-based blogger behind the popular, ultra-honest, hilariously confessional blog Bitches Gotta Eat. She opens her personal essay collection with a piece about how she’d fill out an application to be a Bachelorette contestant. It’s a pretty wonderful, hilarious introduction, and you can imagine what you’re in for with her from there.

Her stories are messy, raw, sometimes uncomfortable. There’s no glossing or artifice, no word-mincing. To say that’s refreshing is cliche and an understatement, but it’s true. But it’s refreshing in a weird way. It’s like, uncomfortably refreshing.

Irby is blunt on all topics spanning life, family, and her own quirks. And in talking about them like this, and telling some all-too-relatable tales from the corners of her life that many people probably would just have preferred to forget, she exudes a winning, endearing quality. She writes with a chatty, easygoing but nevertheless intelligent style about her experiences with tough topics like mental and physical illness, race, rejection, difficult families (including her father’s alcoholism and death), impatience, not having kids, dropping out of college, general awkwardness, and embracing instead of trying to change personality quirks that make a person themselves. It runs quite a spectrum.

It’s legitimately laugh out loud funny in parts, and she’s such a sympathetic, likable person. I think more than anything I came away from this thinking that I want to be friends with her. Even though we’re both kind of introverted and avoidant, so it would probably be hard, but still I want her in my life. I felt her pain on so many points, especially in essays that dealt with relationship failures and trying to build personal identity out of a troubled or less-than-financially-secure start.

She has a nice way of taking a serious topic and laying it out directly and honestly – for example one that many people confront in their thirties and beyond, of questioning what you’re doing at a dead end job that’s still putting money in your bank account. Instead of an oversimplified, sunshiny take on living your best life, she works with the idea that that’s a perfectly okay way to get things done and keep yourself in the black.

A few anecdotes about sex and poop (and there are a lot of stories here that involve sex and poop in some way, thankfully usually unrelated) were too much for me. I know her raunchiness is appreciated by blog readers, and I think that brand of unapologetic honesty, especially from a woman, is something to be celebrated instead of horrified by, but it’s not my preferred reading material. There are big hits in these stories and a few misses. Still, I appreciate frankness and I’ll take it any day over the perfumed glossiness of that special sort of women’s-interest memoir marketed to a Sex and the City-worshipping crowd.

Some of her stories spoke to me, and as one burned-out urbanite to another, I’m sure they’ll resound similarly with others. Her descriptions of riding big city public transportation and how much it impacts your day/week/whole life hit home hard. Or the high expectations friends and acquaintances will set for you if they know you’re a writer of any stripe (this was when I really laughed out loud.) Or just how hard writing for a living can actually be, that it’s not a slick, fine-tuned creative “process” but rather involves a lot of staring at the wall for long periods of time and coming up blank.

And that scraggly, yowling kitten on the cover represents her own “cat child” Helen Keller, a prominent character who despite being aggressively unlikeable is the center of a heartstring-tugging story. It’s one of those “that’s life” moments that Irby has her own special, unique way of telling, joking through seriousness and touching the raw heart of reality. Life is dirty, funny, hopeful, messy, painful, surprising, contradictory, tough to endure and beautifully loving at the same time. Nothing to do but live it and laugh along the way if and when possible; I take that message from Irby’s storytelling.

It should be enough to say that if you have a quick read through bitches gotta eat and are in sync with her raunchy sense of humor and very particular writing style, you’ll get a lot out of this book.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays
by Samantha Irby

published May 30, 2017 by Vintage Paperback Original (Random House Knopf)

I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

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