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Author Thu Sep 05 2013

Bitches Gotta Laugh: A Discussion of Meaty by Samantha Irby

meaty.jpgSamantha Irby's much anticipated collection of essays, Meaty, is out today. If you're not sure whether or not to purchase it, read contributor Alba Machado's and my discussion below! (Hint: Buy it.)

Mikaela: As somebody who had never read Samantha Irby's blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, I didn't know what I was in for, though I quickly found out. I feel that I know Samantha Irby better than I know most of my friends after reading this book, from her bowel movements and sex life to her experiences and hopes. I laughed a LOT and felt a bit emotional during some of the more serious essays. What was reading Meaty like for you, as someone who has read her blog?

Alba: I discovered Samantha Irby a couple of years ago, when she read for the Funny Ha-Ha series at the Hideout. She made me blush in the best way ever. It's a talent she has. It's not just that she talked about peeing on a man's face; it's that she did it in this absolutely candid, intimate check-this-freaky-shit-out kind of way that made her story seem somehow as ordinary as it was outrageous--something casual, something you'd laugh about over coffee. She has the gift that Toni Morrison says is the true test of a writer's power, to "familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar." Since then, I've gobbled up her online work, first the joke advice column that she wrote with Ian Belknap at, "advice for jerks, written by assholes," then Bitches Gotta Eat. And of course, I was really excited to read Meaty. It did not disappoint. Laughs were had. Numerous times. But the book also veered into unexpectedly tragic terrain, and for that, I would have liked to have read it at a slower pace, given myself time to process and reflect on one chapter before moving onto the next. Meaty seems an appropriate name. You need time to chew on it!

Mikaela: Meaty felt like a memoir to me, a very modern and unique one. Samantha does an interview with herself; a list of how she spent her money for one week; an explanation on "How to Get Your Disgusting Meat Carcass Ready for some New, Hot Sex" and ridiculous diets; recipes; letters to her new boyfriend, black people and white people; a description of how she imagines other people to have sex and how she has sex; and an imaginary television show outline, to name a few. I never knew what to expect and was always left guessing.

Does this feel like a memoir to you?

Alba: We do learn a lot about Irby's life in these essays. But to me Meaty feels like more than just a memoir, since it's also heavy on the advice, opinion, analysis, and rants. I loved that early in the book there's an imagined date between Irby and us, her readers, and that she envisions us asking her questions like, "Do you still have your tonsils?" and "Would you ever bungee jump?" Mikaela, we've both been on a date with Samantha Irby! And do you remember what she said when we got to the restaurant? She said, "I am not wearing the right footwear for a place this goddamned fancy, and I am probably too poor to eat here in real life, so I am really hoping that you are a gentleman and that this $15 pasta is on you." She is as playful as she is brutally honest. Are there any essays in the book that were particularly fun or memorable for you?

Mikaela: I laughed and smiled and shook my head many, many times as I made my way through this book. I especially enjoyed the essay where Samantha's friend's dad, Mel, takes her into his luxurious home, pays for her to get a degree, and lets her drive his Mercedes. She ends up telling her uppity classmates that the car is her rich German husband's, and that they have six strapping sons. At the end, years and years after this happened, she confessed to Mel the lies she made up about the two of them. His response: "Sam," he said gravely, "I'm not mad that you lied. I'm not even mad that you kind of made me look like a pedophile. I understand why you did it, and I'd understand if you needed to do it again. Just remember next time that I am a MOTHERFUCKING JEW."

And now for something completely different. The chapter that left the biggest scar on my heart, My Mother, My Daughter. It begins with, "My mother became my daughter when I was nine years old." Samantha had to mask the fact that for years, she was going to school and returning home to care for her very ill mother, from age nine to high school. Eventually her mom was put into a nursing home, and Samantha wondered, "Who gives a fuck about my floundering GPA when I can't be there to stop them from hitting her when she doesn't move fast enough?"

Samantha's writing abilities impress me to no end. How can she make me laugh so hard and blush one chapter, then make my heart break the next? I completely understand what you meant, Alba, when you said you needed more time to digest certain parts. How do you move on from an essay that ends with, "Children should never die before their parents?"

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