Lindy West’s first book, “Shrill,” was named one of the best books of 2016 and is now a Hulu series with actress Aidy Bryant playing West. The Seattle-based writer co-founded the #ShoutYourAbortion reproductive rights movement and is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.
In “Shrill,” West wrote personally and politically about fat-shaming, her family of origin, why rape jokes are never funny, her abortion, confronting internet trolls and finding love.
Her new collection of 18 essays, “The Witches Are Coming,” is less personal than polemical. When she’s good, she’s very, very good — bracingly original, biting and funny — and when she’s not, the reader still finds brilliant nuggets.
“The Witches Are Coming” takes its title from “witch hunt,” a pet phrase of our president, who, as West points out, has tweeted it hundreds of times. Lindy West adopts the witch invocation as a badge of courage, a call to change prevailing norms that countenance structural sexism as well as racism and economic inequality. If certain men are frightened, West argues, perhaps they should be in this time of #MeToo “cultural reckoning.”
A throat-tuggingly effective essay for me was “Gear Swap.” West takes a squabble on a Facebook music gear-swapping and sales website her husband uses, and illuminates achingly relevant issues of economics, class and race. West’s husband, who is black, desperately wanted to play the trumpet as a child but living in Section 8 housing in Seattle with a single mother without a dime to spare it seemed like an impossible dream. Then a neighbor posted a flier selling an affordable trumpet and his mother received her tax refund, setting him on his path as a gifted musician in a city where at present, white net worth is 20 times more than black net worth.
In another powerful essay, “What Is an Abortion, Anyway?,” West argues against silence. A third of all women have had abortions, yet because of stigma and shame, they do not talk about them. West is all for breaking the silence, arguing for women to “exist as our whole selves in public, unapologetically.”
The essays in which West deconstructs cultural icons — such as Adam Sandler or Joan Rivers — who are not touchstones for me, were less effective. Yet even these pieces contain incisive, memorable passages. In the pop culture category, she does a deft takedown of the creators of “South Park,” who dislike liberals and conservatives alike, choosing a spiky amorality instead.
Unapologetic, salty, tired of making nice, West gives us another refreshingly nervy essay collection. While not as poignant or funny as her first book, this one is fueled instead by a righteous anger. Let the witches come.
Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Witches Are Coming
By: Lindy West.
Publisher: Hachette, 260 pages, $27.
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