Adam Sandler is not getting a free pass from Lindy West. Neither is Ted Bundy.
In her new book, The Witches Are Coming (Hachette Books, 272 pages, $27), West uses her by-now-familiar humor and poignant wit to dissect the sexism and misogyny in pop culture icons who have garnered collective obsession.
The essay collection explores everything from rape culture and male fragility to the pitfalls of plausible deniability. Titles include "Is Adam Sandler Funny?," "Ted Bundy Was Not Charming—Are You High?" and "A Giant Douche Is a Good Thing If You're a Giant."
West says the book is a continuation of points she's been making for years.
"I've always sort of gambled on this idea that if I could just be charming enough and be funny and say the same thing with as much clarity and determination as possible, over and over again for years and years and years," she says, "that eventually people would have to be like, 'Huh, maybe there's something to this. Because this woman really is not letting go of it.'"
West's sharp comedic writing also makes a return to television next year with the acclaimed, Portland-set Hulu series Shrill, which loosely mirrors West's memoir of the same title and her experience as a former writer at Seattle's The Stranger.
In advance of the Portland stop on her book tour, WW spoke to West about the reaction to Shrill's first season, writing about Trump in an era where everyone writes about Trump, and how she's managed to deprogram a few lifelong Republicans, albeit inadvertently.
WW: Why transpose the show to Portland?
Lindy West: We wanted to fictionalize it and move away from my actual life to make sure it was clear this is a new story we're telling, even if it is based on the memoir. A lot of the bones of the story come from my life, but a lot of it is stuff we made up. So [setting the show in Portland] helps to distance it a little bit. It makes it a lot easier to not have to deal with people being like, "Hey, I was Lindy West's barista in 2004, and now they're maligning me! That character was based on me!" It just takes a little bit of the heat off everyone assuming that every bad decision [Aidy Bryant's character, Annie Easton] makes was a bad decision I made.
Did Portland influence the narrative of the show at all? Or could you have set the story anywhere?
I'm from Seattle, so I feel like I am culturally a Pacific Northwest person. To me, there is also something very Pacific Northwest about Annie and the kind of person she is. She's very passive and she's extremely polite. She says thank you when people insult her. Obviously, that's a stereotype and not everyone is like that, but it's certainly something I'm familiar with in the culture of Seattle and, I'm sure, Portland.
I think there's something about the outdoorsy wellness culture of Portland that makes a story about fatness a little more interesting. When I grew up, everyone was doing, like, search and rescue in the Gorge. Everyone was hyperfit and eating nuts and berries. There were certain ways in which I did always feel a little bit out of place because I wasn't naturally one of those people.
Did you have any expectations for how Season 1 of Shrill would be received?
I don't know if I was surprised, because I could feel, as we were making it, that it was special and it would impact people in a lot of the same ways as the book. But I don't know if I was prepared for how intensely people would feel it. There's something about seeing something visually that does affect you in a different way than reading—like the way people responded to the pool-party episode. I write about all those concepts in my book, and I know the book has been really affecting for people, too.
But we were able to engineer for other people the exact experience that really changed my life in a huge way, and changed Aidy's life. We both went through that process of starting to look at fat bodies differently and, by extension, our own bodies. To be able to give other people that experience who maybe hadn't done that before or hadn't felt that before was really special.
Who did you write The Witches Are Coming for? What do you hope readers do with it?
It's really hard to feel OK enough to think about certain things. I avoided even thinking about climate change—it's too hard. But we can't do that. We have to think about it. Especially people like me who are not going to be on the front lines of the climate catastrophe. It's not going to be white ladies in Seattle who are going to bear the brunt of this disaster. So it's extra important for me to pay attention and to listen and to be engaged. Anyone who's getting tired, anyone who's feeling the pull of despair and who feels hopeless, I hope this book helps a little bit.
I've also weirdly heard from a bunch of lifelong Republicans who said I changed their minds. I'm certainly not writing for die-hard Trump supporters to read this and be like, "Huh. Oops!" I still don't really think that's going to happen. But I've gotten four or five emails like this, and people have come up and talked to me at my readings and said that I changed their mind in big ways about politics.
People get used to politics feeling like a game. And I have, for a long time, been working on this experiment. Like, if I prove that I really mean it, would that be convincing to people in some effective way? I don't know if it was. But maybe. Maybe I was right. Even if it was only five people.
We're in an era oversaturated with Trump takes, and you managed in The Witches Are Coming to filter the conversation through a fresh lens. How did you balance keeping essays topical without exhausting readers?
One thing that helps is that I didn't intend for it to be a Trump book. It sort of ended up there because it's really almost impossible to talk about the cultural moment without bringing that up.
What I wanted to talk about was some of the bigger, deeper problems within American culture and the way that we conceive of ourselves. That kept me constantly veering off into deep dives of pop culture analyses that predated Trump and talking about a really wide scope of issues. A lot of them ended up at Trump and Trumpism. But that's because that's where we all ended up.
What's your advice to young people or people of minority identities of any age on recognizing their power and confidence in an oppressive world?
One thing that's really, really important is to find solidarity and community. I write in the book about how anger is really powerful and can be a really productive emotion. But it's not safe for everyone to express their anger—that's not something our culture engages with in a fair and equal way.
Certain people, black women especially, are stigmatized for expressing their anger. It's not a level playing field. It's important to remember that. But I think it helps to find groups where your voice is valued and where you don't feel like you need to be afraid to be angry, and where you can check in with other people who have had similar experiences and verify that you're not imagining this and you're not overreacting—that can be in physical spaces, but it can also be online spaces.
There's something really isolating about this moment the Trump administration has manufactured, where people feel really mired in despair. But that's why organizing and organizers are so important. Getting your body out of your house, if you can, and going and doing anything—any kind of demonstration or march or volunteer work—or even just having a book club where you read a radical text that makes you think differently about the world [also helps].
Or, I don't know, vandalism. Make stickers that say something you believe in, run around your neighborhood and stick them on stuff—that's "illegal," don't do that.
SEE IT: Lindy West reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., powells.com, on Thursday, Nov. 21. 7:30 pm.