“This book is dedicated to Zoloft.” We’re taken on another wildly uproarious collection of essays post pandemic in Samantha Irby’s Quietly Hostile, that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Irby’s writing is honest, unflinching, and relatable, and she has a gift for finding humour in even the most challenging, repulsive and bizarre situations.
Irby is one of those rare comedians who has created her own space in a literary genre where white women dominate. From Dolly Alderton to Caitlin Moran, very rarely are Black women able to just be themselves without being forced into gatekeeping her identity. No doubt she probably has to in so many other ways, but it’s wonderful to read a voice that reflects your own hilarious experiences and you just get to enjoy the words she puts out into the ether.
Warning: this review includes language and quotes from the book that some may find offensive.
Who is Samantha Irby?
Samantha Irby is an American author, comedian, and blogger. She gained prominence through her humorous and candid writing style, often sharing personal stories about her life, relationships, and experiences. Irby first gained attention with her blog, "bitches gotta eat," where she wrote about her dating life, health issues, and other topics with wit and honesty. In 2013, Irby published her debut essay collection titled "Meaty," which received critical acclaim for its frank and humorous exploration of topics such as race, sexuality, and body image. The success of "Meaty" led to further opportunities for Irby, including a television development deal and a regular writing position on the television show "Shrill." She has since published additional essay collections, including "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life" in 2017 and "Wow, No Thank You" in 2020. Irby's writing often resonates with readers due to its relatable and unfiltered approach, tackling both serious and lighthearted subjects with humour and vulnerability.
What is Quietly Hostile about?
Samantha Irby’s essays in Quietly Hostile explore a wide range of topics, including her experiences as a Black woman in America, her struggles with body image and physical health struggles, her relationship with her wife, her experiences with mental health, including anxiety and depression, and her thoughts on pop culture, social media, and the internet. But she also talks about surviving a COVID-19 pandemic.
She writes: “I kept waiting for the sky to turn black or zombies to surround the car and drag me out from behind the wheel so they could peel all the flesh off my bones. Does the add-on insurance the salesman talked me into cover destruction by the undead?”
Irby’s writing is both funny and insightful, and she doesn’t shy away from discussing difficult topics, while resonating with anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or who has struggled with their mental health.
For much of her writing, Irby is talking about the zeitgeist of the time. While she talks about her love of musician Dave Matthews, she says: “Every time my dad was putting a Betty Wright LP on and cranking it up so loud it drowned out the Smurfs on TV, I’d be feeling sorry for him.”
Just say no – to children
In her “Chub Street Diet” essay, we can see how visceral and vivid her writing is, the sign of any good comedy writer. There’s a particular instance where she describes working in an outside office: “After I drop the dog off, I decide to go to this office I rent across town to feel like I have a reason to occasionally leave the house, although it often comes in handy when I have to talk to people who might be disgusted by our circus of pets yowling and barking as they somersault off the furniture behind me in my living room corner “office.””
The raging pandemic dog she says was almost a replacement for having a child, and she brings to the fore the current rolling back of Roe v Wade in the US, where abortion rights are being curtailed. She said she was asked if she wanted a child by someone, in which she responded: “Do I wish I could stand idly by and witness all the things I hate about myself manifested in, and mirrored back to me by, a person it’s against the law for me to kill? I absolutely do not!”
Body, bowel and bladder control
Irby has been open about her struggles with Crohn’s disease, degenerative arthritis, and depression, often discussing her experiences in her writing. This is very apparent in her graphic essay “Body Horror!” where she discusses her loss of bladder control, just after talking about an incredibly dubious relationship with a water sports fetishist. The irony.
This is where her bladder ended up after the age of 35: “I used to never have to pee on flights, due to a carefully calibrated combination of claustrophobic terror and forced dehydration, but now, every time an airplane touches down with me on it, a little pee squirts out to christen my arrival in a new location.”
Don’t get me started on the essay “Oh, So You Actually Don’t Wanna Make a Show About a Horny Fat Bitch with Diarrhea? Okay.” The less said, the better. Suffice to say, her potential TV show was quickly passed upon as she says the network summed up the show as “Diarrhea and crying”.
And bodily functions aren’t limited to health. There is a whole chapter on a particular porn movie involving nuns – yes, you read right – and her inclination to get her jollies from it.
Sex and the City throwback
In the essay “Superfan!!!!!!!,” Irby writes about her love/hate relationship with Sex and the City. She admits that she’s a huge fan of the show, but she also criticises it for its unrealistic portrayal of women’s lives. It makes complete sense given she has been a writer and/or co-producer for TV shows including HBO’s sequel of Sex and the City, Work in Progress, Shrill, and Tuca & Bertie. Season two of And Just Like That just happened to be on our TV screens at the time of writing.
As a writer and comedian, the US TV show was one of the first of its kind. Few can forget the escapist joy of joining a female-driven comedy with Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her loyal girlfriends, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda (Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon) in glamorous Manhattan, watching the friends navigate adventures – and misadventures – in love and life. And Irby was one of the many die-hard fans. So much so, she breaks down episodes to its fine details.
This includes an episode of when Carrie is dumped by post-it by her fellow writer boyfriend. Something that cuts deep with Irby. She says: “She’s never gonna be reviewed in the New Yorker or be taken seriously by anyone who earnestly uses the word “literature.” And he will, just because he’s a man who wrote an Important Fictional Book. Comparison is the thief of joy.” There’s something rather meta about her writing about a fictional writer being broken up with another author.
But the trip down memory lane doesn’t end there. For Irby The scene also reminds her of another huge nostalgia point while watching this show: “life was so much more tricky and interesting before we all had cell phones.”
Key takeaways from Samantha Irby’s Quietly Hostile:
If you’re looking for a book that looks at the now from a post-apocalyptic perspective, that will make you laugh, cry, and think, then it’s definitely worth reading.
- Life is messy and awkward, and that’s okay. The author is not afraid to be vulnerable and share her own personal experiences, even the ones that are embarrassing or uncomfortable. She shows us that it’s okay to not have it all figured out, and that we can still find humour in the midst of our messiness.
- It’s okay to be different. Irby is proud of her unique personality and sense of style. She encourages us to embrace our own quirks and differences, and to not let anyone try to make us feel otherwise.
- It’s important to find joy in the simple things. She finds joy in the everyday things, like eating junk food and watching trashy TV.
- There’s no such thing as normal. The comedian talks about losing a parent at a young age, while simultaneously having a parent that was constantly absent and in dangerous situations. Years later, she then finds her half-siblings.
Overall, in “Quietly Hostile,” Irby skillfully navigates the realm of riotous comedy, leading us on a hilarious journey through the often unspoken realities behind those relatable yet sombre depression memes. With her trademark wit and candour, Irby paints a vivid and authentic portrait of a life lived through a pandemic, peeing and pooping issues – not to mention porn. Not only are her anecdotes relatable and thought-provoking, Irby also becomes the much-needed remedy that uplifts and resonates with us all. Let’s just say the graphic sexcapades may have been too much for the likes of us to bear…
If you liked this…
In the meantime, check out the episode with comedian Sadia Azmat on sex and relationships, and how to talk about it.