Monday, August 26, 2013

"Drinking is orbit."

I felt my soul was dying and I didn't know what to do. Martin said this was called "growing up."

I read Iris Has Free Time, by Iris Smyles, earlier this summer, and I have to admit that I liked it far more than I expected to. I write about it now in time for you to get a copy for your favourite college student before they walk forever out of their life.

Edmund White said of this book:
Iris Smyles has reinvented Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly for the 21st century — with this difference: she inhabits rather than observes her appealing character.

It's this quote that sold me on this novel, inspiring me to accept a review copy. Those are two distinct voices White references that are really tough to top. I'm not sure he's right about inhabiting versus observing (and I'm not even sure it's fair of him to state it given that there are narrators observing Holly and Sally from the outside).

Iris is told by Iris, probably not in her free time but likely as part of actual coursework, or in that part of her life when she commits to being serious about something, but that's the part we have trouble accessing because this about the free time, not the other stuff. Kind of.

Paul La Farge had this to say:
If Hemingway's novels are icebergs, drifting majestically through a chilly sea, Iris Smyles' Iris Has Free Time is a mountain of glitter: iridescent, fabulous, and always changing its shape. It's a monument to the idea of fun, and is itself a delight.

And on the basis of this quote, I am fairly certain I will never choose to read a novel by La Farge. Mostly because I think he's wrong. (But also, really? "Drifting majestically through a chilly sea"? Barf. But maybe this quote was included to be funny?)

There's also a touch of Esther Greenwood and Sally Jay Gorse about Iris. Bridget Jones too, with more alcohol and more hangover.

So while everybody chats about how hilarious this book is on the back cover, I'm wondering if I read the same book, cuz while there were antics and hijinks, I'm left with more of a sad, pathetic, tragic, depressing vibe. Except, of course, for the fact that she gets out it, she kind of grows out of it, but where's the fun in that? Doesn't it just go to prove that her youth was misspent? And if fun were the ideal, we'd prefer her never to grow up.

But yes, there is humour.

And though I enjoyed the show Sex and the City, about a sex columnist like me, I was always mystified by how the four women could have sex with a man and after discard him so easily. My column is much less Sex and the City and much more Tess of the d'Urbervilles in that respect. Tess of the d'Urbervilles minus the rape and murder, but otherwise nearly identical. Tess and the City would be the name of my TV show if I had one, and it would be subtitled The Adventures of a Pure Woman in Manhattan Faithfully Rendered. Because I'm just like Hardy's Tess, a pure woman corrupted by society. Remember that, future husband, when you read my binder full of clippings!

I should say, also, that I really, really, really hate the cover. The tone of it, in both senses of colour and attitude. It would have never enticed me to pick it up. And having it read it, it feels all wrong. I especially hate the tutu. I see Iris in all kinds of crazy get-ups, but not a tutu. But that's just me.

Despite my misgivings, I thoroughly enjoyed the first couple hundred pages of this novel. They breezed along, I wanted to hear more. Tell me what college was like, Iris, and that empty time afterward, because it was like that for me too. Isn't it great we can laugh about it now?

By the 300-page mark it was all feeling a little tedious, particularly since I'd heard some of the stories before. Structurally, I couldn't quite get the hang of this book. The prologue is 50 pages long. Events are out of chronological order, and some are retold in different contexts, with a different memory perception filter.

How fleeting is an afternoon, when compared to its memory? The scary stories have it backwards, I think. It is we the living who are the ghosts of this world, we who haunt the past.

I totally get that, I'm just not convinced the book's structure promotes it.

Take Chapter 9, for example, the drinking games. They're funny. Setting them in a chapter of their own adds, what, a layer of sadness? But we've already read about some of them, in context, so why separate them out? I suspect some weird editorial compromises were struck. A la, "I can't decide which telling I love better, can't we keep them both?"

Anyway, if you've ever drifted along in and out of college, got drunk, and wondered what the hell you were going to do with your life, Iris Has Free Time is worth reading, at least until you get bored of it.

(Was she really so alone? I remember her always with people, drawing people into her web of schemes. The aloneness comes later, in her mind.)

See also the short mockumentary film, At Home with Iris Smyles.

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