Sunday, April 24, 2016

Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney

A receptionist slowly starts to understand her job truly is a sham

Iris Finch, well meaning receptionist at a typical Los Angeles firm in a Class C office building, each morning dutifully arrives to perform her mundane duties.  Her boss is odd, occasionally abrupt, fond of making urgent calls from far off locales; the guy in the office next door is even weirder and apparently seems to be making the office his residence.  Iris becomes obsessed with this tenant, passing little notes beneath his door and tucked under his windshield wipers.  She also has a college friend who tries unsuccessfully to set Iris up with a man.  On these dates, Iris seems to be actively trying to repel the guy.  There are recurring alternating narratives with her brother and the aftermath of a tragic long ago (yet somewhat comical) accident.  The resonating ending has Iris descending into a new world, then escaping with her life just before everything caves in.

For anyone who has ever worked a temp job, (especially in Los Angeles), Iris’s tale is very recognizable.  The calm acquiescence in absurdities, the precious minutes of lunch break, the getting and spending of office supplies.  The brother’s story didn’t really tie to anything – maybe we needed those chunks of semi normality to break up the airlessness of Iris’s world view.  But the claustrophobia, the absurdity, of Iris executing her meaningless job is the whole point of this novel, right?  This reminded me of Vida and Vida reminded me of Cusk.  So I’ve been reading a lot of stories lately of neurotics cast into otherworldly, absurd, situations.  The narrators must decide what they will do once they are embedded in the unnatural situations.  The genuine pleasures of reading these books do not come from the plot but from the increasingly suffocating atmosphere.  An atmosphere both comic and recognizable.  Maybe modern work lacks meaning.  The author is good at cranking up the tension, such as skillfully deploying a piano, as the story progresses.

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