Every collection of Samantha Irby essays—this is her fourth, following 2020’s Wow, No Thank You.—is a masterclass in situating pitch-perfect comedy and deep sincerity side by side. Irby’s appeal, at least to this reader, has always been how she’s found humor in some of life’s most difficult experiences, including losing both parents when she was a teenager and living with chronic illness.
In Irby’s new book, Quietly Hostile, she’s still sharing her delightfully bizarre opinions—like in the essay “Dave Matthews’ Greatest Romantic Hits,” which ranks 14 of the musician’s tenderest songs in an attempt to convince people that her love for him is not a bit. Irby also hits readers right in the feels with essays about complicated families, like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” about reconnecting with her older brother after 25 years. And as always, there are numerous gross-but-mostly-funny pieces about bodily fluids, including but not limited to diarrhea, peeing her pants and peeing on a sexual partner.
Yet Irby’s rising profile as a bestselling author and cult favorite television producer has had an impact on her Everywoman relatability. Quietly Hostile contains classic Irby humor, but her well-deserved success means the subjects she applies that humor to have irrevocably changed. For example, a handful of the essays are about writing for TV, including for Aidy Bryant’s Hulu comedy “Shrill” and HBO’s “Sex and the City” reboot. In this context, the otherwise on-brand diarrhea jokes (“During my interview I said ‘Can I give Carrie diarrhea?’ and I was hired immediately”) feel somewhat awkward. There is a dissonance between her self-deprecation and the reality that “Sex and the City” creator Michael Patrick King specifically reached out to Irby’s agent to ask if she’d be interested in writing for the new show.
This dissonance aside, Quietly Hostile is still very much worth a read. Irby is a truly hilarious writer and mines laughs from the wildest situations (even a trip to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock). And as a 40-something Black woman, a Midwesterner and a stepmother, she brings a unique and underrepresented perspective to the humor shelf of your local bookstore. This newest version of Irby’s unhinged yet subtly complex humor may not quite capture the magic of previous iterations, but she’s still someone who can (and did) write hundreds of words about what to do if you clog a public toilet—and you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty special.