(Two Dollar Radio, 2012)
Anne-Marie Kinney brings us a first novel that initially seems hollow, another empty tale of office work in America. However, Radio Iris soon shifts into a portrait of a young woman struggling to remain present in a world that seems to disappear before her eyes—family, co-workers, even an elusive office neighbor. Iris evokes a comparison to Lenore of David Foster Wallace’s Broom of the System in the way she questions her own reality and presence. Does she exist at all? She leaves written notes on walls and furniture in case anyone ever finds them, to know that she was once there. She occasionally tries to stand very still and look straight ahead, under the pretense that she may become invisible.
Iris is perhaps living out this tale of invisibility in Los Angeles, where such things are definitely possible, but it could really be any U.S. city. New Yorkers can relate to the idea that their neighbors could be doing just about anything on the other side of their shared walls, or to creative housing situations—like using commercial space as living space, sneaking in and out during office hours, a Murphy bed in the wall.
Iris and her semi-estranged brother, the elusive salesman Neil, experience consistent dream sequences and flashbacks related to their childhood, particularly an accident at a birthday party that permanently impacted several lives. This theme adds some depth to the tale of seemingly mundane corporate life.
Iris wonders what her office neighbor is up to, as she passes the days typing letters and sending faxes at a mysterious, potentially pointless company. She goes home to an empty apartment, personal routines, and awkward social encounters. In these, she is reminiscent of Mirabelle in Steve Martin’s Shopgirl, or perhaps any single girl in any city. Iris has a few lackluster experiences with men, due in large part to a pushy friend’s insistence. This lack of attention to sex in a book about a single young woman is rare and refreshing—we are able to think about her other qualities, and her motivations.
Iris’ love story—she passes notes with her office neighbor—may be strange but aren’t the best love stories a little off-kilter? Leaving little notes and whispering back and forth seems to be just the right speed for Iris, and the reader hopes it works out for her.
ContributorTatiaana L. Laine