Read Irby because she understands the mutinies of the body. She understands suffering and uncertainty, and is wildly, seditiously funny on both. Read Irby because she knows what it means to live with a fair amount of panic and largely indoors. She suffers from depression (her new book is dedicated to Wellbutrin), degenerative arthritis and Crohn’s disease, which can require her to wear a diaper. To her, the three most terrifying words in the language are “outdoor music festival.” One of her essays is a manifesto titled “A Case for Remaining Indoors” (her argument hinges on: “My boyfriend, the television, is inside”). She might be our great bard of quarantine — with an unimpeachable daytime pajama look. What amateurs we are by comparison, stockpiling toilet paper and bleating about our sourdough starters.
“I like to sit at home in mild terror as the world rages outside without me, hoping that no one is going to drop by and expect me to come up with a humorous anecdote or ask me to have an opinion on something,” she once wrote. At best, she’ll concede to getting in her car and “looking at all the nature I don’t want to get on me.”
This is her voice: deadpan, confiding, companionable. It can ascend to high silliness (a passionate, utterly unforgivable defense of the minor works of the Dave Matthews Band, for example) and then, without any strain, carry us into the darkest rooms in her past.
As a child, growing up in Illinois, she was the sole caretaker of a mother with multiple sclerosis. She attempted suicide at 13, after years of strain. Her parents died, six months apart, when she was still a teenager. Her father, an alcoholic, froze to death on the streets. She dropped out of college, lived in her car for three months, squatted where she could. “Once upon a time, I lived in a crack house,” she writes in this new collection. “It wasn’t so much a crack house as it was a rooming house that a lot of people who enjoyed smoking crack cocaine lived in, but ‘crack house’ rolls off the tongue better, so I’ll just call it that.”
In the opening essay of “Meaty,” she mordantly surveyed the damage. She was 30. She had survived, but at what cost? She bore intense health problems and the bills to match. “I don’t have a man in my life,” she wrote. “I’m not that smart. I have squamous metaplasia in my ileum.” She had a broken foot that wouldn’t heal, a broken radiator, a broken computer. She pined for parents, for someone to make her a mix tape. “I WANT A WINNING LOTTERY TICKET,” she groused.