Memoirs and Biographies: Shrill by Lindy West

Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman is one of the best non-novel narrative reads I’ve ever experienced. Published in 2016, this non-fiction book of essays covers various aspects of West’s personal life; she discusses everything from her identify as a fat woman to the death of her father, from combatting internet trolls to the toxic masculinity embedded in comedy culture. Hilarious, joyous, vulgar, and depressive, Shrill is one of my favorite examples of a narrative memoir.  

The book’s structure is straightforward. West breaks Shrill into several sections, which comprise their own essays. The essays do not move chronologically; rather, each section centers on a theme around which West constructs an isolated narrative. The essay about her experience with internet trolls begins en medias res, where she receives a Twitter message from her dead father—in reality, a cyberbully simply found out that her father had died, then decided to threaten and harass West. The essay continues, backtracking to explain a controversial article she had previously written, the fast-forwarding to her attempts to solicit help from local and federal law enforcement. West deftly shifts between moments in time, constructing non-linear narratives that will bring the readers to laughter, to tears, then back to laughter.

Unsurprisingly, Shrill received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Slate, one of my favorite publications, described West’s writing as “both sharp-toothed and fluid as it rips into period stigma and abortion stigma, sexism and fat-shaming. Though the book’s many shrewd insights sometimes feel strung together in a way that’s less than artful, they are always a pleasure to read.” I’d disagree with the second-to-last statement; I think the way West presents pieces of the story further solicits reader participation and interest.  

Shrill was published a couple of years ago, but West recently announced some pretty cool news relating to the book. In December of 2016, Elizabeth Banks optioned Shrill for adaptation to television. It is currently in development at Hulu. The series is to star Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, and executive producers include Elizabeth Banks, Lorne Michaels, Andrew Singer, and Max Handelman. I’m curious to see how the show will deal with West’s idiosyncratic approach to narrative storytelling—only time will tell! 

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