Book Review: Iris Has Free Time

by | June 30, 2013
filed under Books, Feminism

irissmylesby Roxanna Bennett

“I prefer to call them pink-outs, because I’m a girl,” the narrator, a charming young alcoholic states. Less a coherent memoir and more a strung-together series of short, sometimes repetitive anecdotes, Iris Has Free Time is the story of a twenty-something woman living in Manhattan, drifting through jobs, parties and relationships.

Both witty and melancholy, the book recounts the brief period in the narrator’s life between graduation and adulthood. Frustratingly indifferent to her job as an intern at The New Yorker, the reader quickly learns that Smyle’s commitment to success seems to have ended at graduation, or leads her only as far as a punchline.

Smyles’ dedication to a joke is admirable. Her relationships with men often start and end with the phrase “wouldn’t it be funny if…?” She keeps a chemistry ledger in which she charts her ‘experiments’ with men; leaving rambling voice mails outlining the plots of various TV shows, sending random vulgar text messages and nonsensical emails, all to gauge and record the reactions of her “subjects”. Her “lab assistant” is her roommate who aids and abets the experiments by helping to concoct the joke.

Smyles’  relationship with her roommate is the emotional hinge of the story, what starts as an inseparable twosome slowly disintegrates as men and adulthood encroach upon the friendship. Smyles’ sad and puzzled reaction to the changing friendship is one of the few authentic moments in the book.

Iris Has Free Time is like being dragged across a landscape of karaoke parties and under furnished apartments by a charismatic, aimless friend. Smyle’s dauntless enthusiasm for new projects she will never finish like selling hundreds of home made T-shirts on eBay or publishing a literary magazine that she loses all the submissions for in a cross-city drinking escapade, is entertainingly honest.

From entrepreneur to teacher to sex columnist, Smyles tries on jobs the way she tries on outfits, riffling through experiences without being much affected by them. Smyles might be the friend you wish would sometimes give a little less information in her stories, like the time, during a pink-out, that she thought her boyfriend’s lap was a toilet and well, you get the idea. But without the frank exposure of her misadventures the story would lack its hilarious appeal.

Uneven in pacing, seemingly without plot, Iris Has Free Time is a book that might appeal to anyone nostalgic for or in the midst of bidding farewell to their twenties.


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