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10.13.2016

"Iris Has Free Time" by Iris Smyles

This book somehow for some reason got much better by the end and I actually missed it and wanted it to continue for a hundred or more pages or so.  For the first two hundred pages (a 372 page book) I groaned inwardly at Smyles's recitation of her drinking and smoking sessions with college and post college friends in Manhattan (aren't these episodes funny really only to the participants?) and felt like the second title should have been "How I Finally Got Serious With My Life....Serious About Writing About How Vacuous and Narcissistic I Was In My 20s, That Is".

And honestly that might be the genuine second title.  From one perspective it sounds totally ridiculous and from another, as all of the reviews on the back cover say, like more of a nostalgic tribute to your 20s, to that age when you're supposed to be silly and clueless and have fun and waste time and evade responsibility.


Iris (the fictional character in the book, who's, according to her interviews, remarkably similar to the authr) is that girl with tons of friends who loves to drink and party and smoke pot and then drink and party and play games and smoke some more pot.  In one passage she and her college bestie spend a day together over summer vacation and end up getting shit faced, to the point that her friend vomits in a cab and then passes out on the sidewalk outside her boyfriends apartment.  The boyfriend comes home and they all spend the afternoon in his apartment partying.  In another Iris, in a drunken stupor, pees on her boyfriend's lap on a train while they are vacationing in Europe.  These characters love to be profound and philosophize and escape to second homes in the Hamptons for the weekend.  Oh, and many have wince-inducing nicknames like "The Captain" and "The Bastard Felix", which have explainable explanations deriving from a terribly funny incident at a drunken party.
"Imagine you have a heap of sand before you."
"Okay"
"Are you imagining it?"
"Yes," I said into the phone.
"I don't belive you.  Where is the heap?"
"It's on my living room table.  I'm looking at it right now."
"Okay, good," Martin said.  "Now, imagine yourself moving one grain of sand at a time."
"Wait, I accidentally got two.  It's hard to separate them."
"That's okay.  Just keep going."  He paused.  "Now, is it still a heap when only one grain is left."
"Ummm....."
"If not, then when did it go from being a heap to a non-heap?"
"I don't know"
"Exactly.  That's the heap paradox.  Sorites paradox is its official name but--"
"I'm sorry, what?  I couldn't hear you."
"I said, 'Sorites paradox is its official name.'  I can't talk any louder because I'm at work--I'm a paralegal.  The conference room was empty so I figured I'd try you....I need to get back though.  But, um, I was wondering if you'd want to get a drink later?"

(This is the  boyfriend who's lap she pees on in a drunken episode.)  This quote encapsulates the combination of faux, indulgent, narcissistic philosophizing (let's get deep and profound in our coddled upper-middle class cocoon) and alcohol.  (One cool thing about the main character, however, is that she didn't marry this guy.)

Smyles is very funny and her characters are so silly that I feel like I'm reading about stick figures in a  cartoon strip.  She reminds me of Sex and the City in this respect, which undoubtedly was an influence, as they both deal heavily with the sex lives of single women in NYC.

Here's a passage that I found genuinely funny.
Go out for drinks....have one too many on purpose.  Discover how witty you are after four, five, and then six.  Discover older men who find you fascinating.  Discover you have this in common with them; you find you fascinating, too!  Catch sight of yourself flirting with one in the mirror behind the bar.  There's something about you, isn't there?  
Notice he's not too attractive.  Humor him and give him your number anyway.  Humor him and agree to go out with him when he calls.  Humor him and meet him for drinks during the week.  Humor him and let him kiss you.  Humor him and go home with him that night.  Humor him over eggs in the morning.  Prepare to humor him when he calls.  Wait for him to call.   

As you can see from the two quotes I've picked out, this book jumps around stylistically.  It's broken into about five sections, each with numerous chapters, and many of the sections (or the chapters? too fucking confusing) are prefaced with one to five esoteric quotes.  She changes points of view between chapters and sections (at one point using second POV), jumps around chronically, and does other wild and crazy things stylistically to shake things up.  Dante's a huge influence, as are undoubtedly are a ton of other super intelligent writers that I'd identify if only I could untangle it all.  Hemingway unfortunately has evaded her list of literary influences.

Somehow the book genuinely did to sober up at the end.  The cartoon figures develop a little flesh; Smyles describes the nasty apartment she shares with her bestie after college (mice, dark, tiny, a perpetually dirty kitchen) and then how things become gross between herself and the bestie when the non-rent-paying boyfriend moves in and she has to be the third wheel every night, tripping over their bed to get to her own, coming home to witness them having sex.  The tension increases when Smyle's life becomes more and more clueless as she flails in an effort to become a writer, while her bestie's life falls into place much more fluidly.

This section generated some genuine empathy, while in the rest of the book I simply felt mildly amused.

Well, I'll probably read her second book, Dating Tips from the Unemployed.  Although I'm already cringing that it's one of these moden-day Odyssey books.  Wouildn't be surprised if I don't make it to the end of that one.

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