Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I’ve long been a fan of Lindy West’s irreverent and sharply funny style. I loved reading her film reviews when she was still with The Stranger (my favorite review is of Sex and the City 2, which I absolutely refused to go see) and Jezebel (hello, scathing indictment of Love, Actually, which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie). I was excited to see her book released this year, and her passage on Lady Kluck in the first chapter made me cackle as I perused it in the bookstore. I think my expectations were really high. Sadly, I think this is mislabeled as a comedy book, as it deals with a lot of heavy and serious topics.
Shrill deals a lot with West’s identity as a self-labeled “fat feminist.” Many of the essays talk about body, weight, rape culture, and what it means to be a feminist on the internet. Many of the stories ring true. Many will make you cringe. Some will force you to rethink your own expectations and definitions of feminism. For me, the standout essay was “Hello, I am Fat.” It’s the story of Lindy’s relationship with Dan Savage, who has risen to prominence as a national spokesperson for LGBT rights. West documents his fatphobia and her direct address of it in The Stranger, which provokes a tense but productive conversation. Savage’s views have greatly changed in the intervening years, and West uses this as an example of how people can and do change. It’s fascinating.
So what gives? you might ask. Why wasn’t this a five-star book for me? What it came down to was in part marketing—I was led to believe this was a hilariously funny book, and most of the time, it wasn’t. I’m not saying that as an indictment, by the way. I’m saying that West covers horribly sad and serious subjects, and they’re not for the faint of heart. There are also some essays that don’t fit well within the frame that she establishes early. The essay about her relationship and marriage, as well as her father’s death, don’t necessarily fit within the context of her identity as a feminist and her relationship to the internet culture that has sought to destroy her. Still, she is a compelling writer, and this is a solid 3.5 star read.