ust like I never liked Holly Golightly, just like I can’t watch Sex and the City anymore without rolling my eyes (Oddly enough, I can still cite key details from the series, like the guy who broke up with Carrie in a Post-It Note was “Burger,” is Ron Livingston.), I feel a reflexive distrust toward “coming-of-age” stories. For the narrative of the young woman, this tends to lead down a slippery slope into “chick lit.” Coming-of-age stories can be fascinating and rich, but marketing has overused this phrase to make Chick Lit titles sound…less flouncy. To me, Chick Lit is a saccharine pink world that breeds dependency and confidence issues.
When I first caught wind of Iris Smyles’ Iris Has Free Time, I was worried it might be that type of coming-of-age that would make me avoid all situations involving heroines. (Do not forget the “e.”) But my skepticism was overturned, something I couldn’t help noticing when I finished the book in a week. (I’m a slow reader. This is a big deal.)
Smyles’ story stretches from undergrad at NYU to Recent Grad Life to grad school and ultimately graduating out of her twenties. Split into three parts, what really got to me was how Smyles’ perspective and language evolved from phase to phase. To be honest, the first “book” was what I was worried it would be: creative co-ed released unto Manhattan, spending her time with “The Captain” and “Lex” and boxes of T-shirts for your standard “I’m Gonna Run a T-Shirt Company” pipe dreams. She calls blackouts pink-outs. As I first read about Iris, I pictured a girl I once knew, who was insufferable in doses exceeding hours at a time. While she knew some good parties and was exciting in person, she simply wasn’t an evergreen friend. (Perhaps that’s why I’m not into the superficially bubbly Chick Lit type? I’m perfectly willing to admit that!)
Yet Smyles’ writing is truly lyrical, as so many early readers have described it, and compelling enough that I kept reading. Book II revealed an Iris with a little less impulse, a little more reflection. Book III revealed a woman with experiences that sounded like the stories my friends and I swap around (over brunch in our favorite table that fits our perfect quartet – sarcasm):
Born into a world built in our service, we’d been shepherded to schools (Entire buildings were dedicated to the cultivation of our minds!) and had our lunches prepared (Candy bar companies had made things “fun-size” for us!). Only yesterday we were young, aristocrats rich with time. And the way a snob is proud of the money into which he is born, we had been proud of our youth.
-Chapter 6: Europe, Book III, Iris Has Free Time by Iris Smyles
But really, the Iris at the end is not the Iris at the beginning. She is a sum of all Irises, and an aggregate refreshing person to “know.” Our heroine Iris actually learns and develops word by word.
With graduation season hitting the States – along with it, my last summer in my twenties! – and Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s rather astoundingly viral “20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I was 30” – again, my ending twenties – I warranted myself a chance to get corny and asked Smyles what she’d tell her New Grad self now:
Things I Would Tell My 21-Year-Old Self:
I’m uncomfortable with giving advice because it suggests that words could have spared me my mistakes, or that I would prefer to have been spared. And I don’t regret my wrong turns. If it took me a long time to find my way, I saw a lot while I was lost.
Instead of advice then, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
There is no such thing as “free time.”
See? Even in emails, Smyles writes lyrically. That she even responded to this no-name’s question is gracious on its own.
The grain of salt you need to remember when you read Iris jacket blurbs is this: That marketers and publicists only have so many words to get you into a story, so of course they’re going to almost literally throw glitter in your face by describing Smyles’ writing and stories as “a mountain of glitter.” I don’t think it is, in the superficial, gets-into-everything way that glitter might imply. This is a book I really do plan on keeping around for any future daughters I might have, because it grows from glitter to handsome gold.
I’m all Smyles. (Puns! Had to. Carrie would be proud. Were Carrie a real person who could know Iris Smyles.)
Thanks to Newman PR for sending Iris Has Free Time my way!