Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Shrill:  Note from a Loud Woman by Lindy West


I heard about this one on a This American Life podcast. It's nonfiction, because I'm on a nonfiction kick right now (because, of course, I have piles of fiction I had planned to read so of course now all I want is nonfiction).

I could say a lot about this book, but I sort of don't see a point in saying much at all.  I liked the book -- well, I liked most of it.  Some parts smacked of sourness.  Some of the humor left me making a face of "really?"  Some of the ideas felt hammered into my head.  But I did laugh, and I got choked up, and I smiled, and I nodded my head at other parts.

I share a lot of qualities with West.  I've lived the life of a fat woman, knowing that my body was not the acceptable sort of body (interestingly enough, I have pictures of me as a teen that demonstrate I was NOT fat.  I was so much NOT fat -- I was healthy and flexible and strong, but I wasn't a match for the then-current ideals of beauty.  I had it so firmly fixed in my head that I was fat that eventually I worked to make it so.).  I would have liked to have had the bravery to Just Be Myself 30+ years ago, before I fell down the rabbit hole.  Ah well.)  I didn't have the defense of humor as she did, but I did have a lot of boyfriends and relationships with men who wanted to keep me out of sight for various reasons, or just used me as a convenient vagina owner.

I also remember the shitstorm about West's confrontation with Jim Norton.  Now, I like Jim Norton and I know he's had his own battle with weight and sex and relationships, and he's a thoughtful man, but, yeah, I thought he swung his white cis/het man privilege around during that debate, unable to imagine himself as either a rape victim or a rapist, unable to extend his mind into the experience of being a dehumanized sexual object.  I think he's wiser now.  But, yeah, not a high point for him.

Still, I got a bit bent over West's rejection of those comedians who did try to say "Hey, I totally did not get this and now I've been thinking about it, and I gotta say I'm sorry for not getting it before and being a dick."  Yeah, she has a reason to be bitter, because she's still taking loads of internet abuse (she apparently has a lot of power in some people's minds, that she can mess up whole realms of stuff people like by pointing out problems and requesting respect.  Gotta admire her for being so restrained, what with all that power.)

Still, my overall reaction to the book is more tepid than enthused.  It's a scattering of stories told out of order and yet not separate and discrete.  It reads more like a collection of articles than a cohesive biography, but it isn't set up like that -- at least, I didn't pick up the cues.  That drained impact from the overall story and left me without a firm place to hold on.  West is a fine writer, but I'm not certain that long form is really firmly in her grasp.