Lindy West is funny.
Her blog posts, Tweets and talks consistently hit all of my humor buttons: a passion for sci-fi and fantasy, political savvy, and the most creative nicknames for tampons in the English lexicon. (Don’t worry about how I fact-checked that one.)
She’s also a fat acceptance feminist whose views attract some truly disturbing and disgusting comments over the Internet. Her compassionate response to one former troll, who made an abusive Twitter account using the name of West’s deceased father, gives me chills every time I think about it.
I was already fan of West’s writing when I began “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” (Hachette Books, May 2016). I should have been prepared for her to rip my heart out while also making me laugh till I cried, but I just wasn’t ready for the way this book engaged me emotionally.
“Shrill” may have a bold red cover and contain many passages where West asserts her confidence in herself and competence as a writer, but she also exposes her vulnerable spots. Her retelling of a mediocre relationship stayed in too long, out of fear of being not-quite-lovable, is raw and relatable. West also reveals her fear of the way the aggressive responses to her writing are changing her. As a human being:
“I cope, day to day, and honestly there is something seductive about being the kind of person who can just take it. Challenging myself to absorb more and more hate is a masochistic form of vanity—the vestigial allure of a rugged individualism that I don’t even believe in. No one wants to need defenses that strong. It always hurts, somewhere. Besides, armor is heavy. My ability to weather online abuse is one of the great tragedies of my life.”
Human beings have bodies: that’s a fact of life. But how humans are socialized to react to bodies (fat bodies, women’s bodies) gets complicated. West details her own journey from shyness and insecurity to loving her body and believing in herself. West’s loving descriptions of her own body are tender and personal:
“The breadth of my shoulders makes me feel safe. I am unassailable. I intimidate. I am a polar icebreaker. I walk and climb and lift things, I can open your jar, I can absorb blows—literal and metaphorical—meant for other women, smaller women, breakable women, women who need me.”
Yet something so simple as being kind to her own body (we all only get this one!) is radical in our culture. (Case in point: It was nigh impossible to find a banner image for this post. Search “body” in a stock image search engine and you’ll see only one body type represented.) As if she could ever forget this, legions of internet commenters insult and harass West every day for having the nerve to love herself.
And so “Shrill” is both personal and political. It does both of things well. Very well. Powerfully well.
But did I mention that Lindy West is funny? She does things with words that make me gasp and then laugh out loud, then reread the sentence, not quite believing what just happened to me. She tells stories with emotional weight and gallows humor in equal parts. Her work is words and she uses them well.
“Shrill” is a book about West doing her job—writing—well (I particularly enjoyed reading her memories of working for the Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger) while also trying to lead an ethical life. (Fun fact: she and her husband began falling in love when she challenged him to stop making people living with STIs the butt of some jokes in his stand-up routine.)
This is no small feat, especially considering how consistently funny West remains while telling her story.
Laura Eppinger graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA in 2008 with a degree in Journalism, and she’s been writing creatively ever since. She the blog editor here at Newfound Journal.