Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Radio Iris

Read 4/4/12 - 4/8/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of whimsical writing with slightly unnerving, twisting tension
Pgs: 209
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Release Date: May 2012 (Read an excerpt of the book here)

I was first made aware of Anne-Marie Kinney's debut novel Radio Iris when Two Dollar Radio submitted it back in December as their Indie Book Buzz feature. It sounded absolutely amazing and I was desperate to get my hands on it.

I mean, a book about a socially awkward receptionist working for a company where her co-workers begin to disappear and her boss grows increasingly odd and secretive... yes please!

To most of us, it's a job like any other. Sitting behind the desk, answering the phone, typing up your boss's emails on the company letterhead, making the coffee-runs, smiling till your cheeks hurt as people you barely know putz around the office making copies and sending faxes. It certainly seems all status quo. Until you hear how Iris landed the job. Until you start to realize that she has no clue what Larmax, Inc. actually is, or does. Until you begin to notice how the once bustling office is slowly becoming devoid of employees. Until you look around and wonder, what the hell kind of place is this?

Iris, our 20-something year old receptionist, is plagued with a lack of inquisitiveness. She seems happy to show up to work, do what she's always done, and collect her paycheck even when things are changing around her. As the offices go empty and her nameless colleagues seem to fall off the face of the earth, she doesn't bat an eye. When her boss demands that she immediately run strange errands and then, upon her return, has disappeared for days without word, she shrugs her shoulders and etches cryptic messages in black sharpie on walls, furniture, and anything else she happens across. Left to her own devices, she begins arriving at work earlier and earlier and starts spying on the hermit-like man who appears to be living in the adjoining suite. Iris wears her awkward, clumsy personality around herself like a coat, burrowing in deep, comfortable in her uncomfortable nature. She has this unnerving, uncanny way of making the strange seem simply mundane. And that's the trick to the story. That's what makes Radio Iris work.

In my opinion, Anne-Marie Kinney is like a magician. She sets up the stage, positioning her key players and all of her props just so. We the readers, her captive audience, have one job - to sit back and enjoy the show. We see only what Kinney deigns to show Iris. We know only what she allows Iris to know. And as we passively sit there, knowing there is more to it than what meets the eye, knowing that Iris must know it too, we are powerless to act as Kinney slowly, magically shifts and twists our perspectives. Our attention completely on Iris, we follow her as she moves across the stage, from prop to prop, distracted by her while Kinney rearranges portions of the stage unobserved by us, realigning each prop after Iris moves on, setting the stage for her next big reveal.

Sometimes the changes in the story line are subtle and they unnerve us because we can't quite put our finger on it. Other times, we appear to catch on to it before Iris does, and we have to stop ourselves from jumping into the pages and pointing it out to her, to stop from asking her "why aren't you reacting to this!" If you are patient, though, you will come to a point in which none of that will seem to matter much anymore.

I wish I could say that everything gets cleared up by the end of the book, that the feeling of unease we experienced as we were pulled through the story is finally put to rest. But I can't. And again, that's part of what makes Radio Iris work. Can you trust in Kinney long enough to see if it works for you?

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