Amy Schumer’s new book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, covers a lot of territory. There are funny anecdotes—about shoplifting as a teen, about waking up from being blacked out in college to find a stranger going down on her—but the overall tone is bittersweet. Schumer has struggled with her father’s physical deterioration from multiple sclerosis, her parents’ divorce, abusive relationships and a hefty dose of sexism. While many celebrity memoirs read like raucous meditations on being a performer, Schumer’s tests the bounds of dark humor.
The Trainwreck star writes extensively about her problematic relationship with her parents—her father too honest, sometimes to the point of cruel, her mother so upbeat that she denies when things are amiss. Her mother once joyfully took Schumer and her sister to get tattoos in the East Village as teens. (Schumer’s sister Kim was underage. Amy’s tattoo got infected.)
She also speaks about her parents’ infidelities, the most damaging of which was an affair that her mother had with her best friend’s father that ended her mother and father’s marriage. Each of her parents were married and divorced three times, parading would-be siblings in and out of her life.
In terms of her personal love life, she shares the stories of two abusive relationships. The first was with a high school boyfriend, whom she fell asleep next to after drinking a few beers. She woke up to find him having sex with her. She calls the encounter “nonconsensual.” (Others have called it rape.) She talks about trying to justify his actions to herself before eventually realizing how wrong it was that she was not allowed to choose the time and way in which she lost her virginity.
Another chapter covers a boyfriend with whom Schumer moves across the country. Not only did the two fight, but the boyfriend shamed her body—laughing at it—and called her disgusting names when he thought other guys were hitting on her. Eventually, he got physical in a truly nightmarish incident. Schumer uses both anecdotes to encourage women who find themselves defending abusive partners to do what she did and leave.
Schumer’s stories of experiencing misogyny wind up being among the most light-hearted tales in the memoir. She becomes the victim of casual sexism at the hands of a competitor on Last Comic Standing (a reality TV show on which she placed fourth); a matchmaker who told her she was still single because she told jokes about sex; and journalists who asked her what it was like to have sex with her. They make the sorts of debilitating comments that will be familiar to female readers, especially those who work in a male-dominated profession.
Schumer concludes that humor has largely allowed to get her through these hardships, though as a reader you often find it difficult to laugh.