A series of episodes drawn from the life of "Iris Smyles," a young woman courting (read: resisting) love and success, with absurd yet improbably poignant results
In twenty-four absurd, lyrical, and louche episodes, “Iris Smyles” weaves a modern odyssey of trying to find one’s home in the world amid the pitfalls and insidious traps of adult life. A wickedly funny picaresque touching on quantum physics, the Donner Party, arctic exploration, Greek mythology, Rocky I, II, V, IV, VI, and III respectively, and literary immortality, Dating Tips for the Unemployed is a wistful if wry ode to that awkward age—between birth and death—when you think you know what you want but aren’t quite sure what you’re doing.
On the airplane, I sat next to a sixty-two-year-old Greek American woman named Kiki who got married at thirty-seven. She told me so within five minutes of my sitting down, before adding that it’s not too late for me either. By the time I got up ten hours later, I knew all there was to know about the struggles of Kiki’s son in AP Physics, his engineering degree from Cooper Union, the car accident four years ago that rendered Kiki unable to wear stilettos, how Kiki met her husband at church, how he scuba dives like her, about her father’s shipping company where she worked before marrying, and recent renovations Kiki oversaw to her house in Astoria. I told her my name when she asked upon landing. I said, “It was nice talking to
The drive from Athens airport to the bus station took an hour. I took a taxi and the young driver helped me with my bags. Tired from the last ten hours of talking, I pretended I couldn’t speak Greek, hoping this might exempt me from polite conversation. “Is okay. I speak English very good.” He told me the islands were very nice, have I been? That if I wasn’t married, I shouldn’t worry; this summer, here in Greece, I might meet the love of my life. “You are a kind girl, I can tell,” he said. “My business is peoples; I know.” After being riddled as to why Greece is better than America ?— ?“I love the quiet,” I answered ?— ?we arrived at the station, where he proceeded to overcharge me ten euro. And because I didn’t want to talk anymore, I gave it to him.
My parents picked me up five hours later from a connecting bus station in Volos. Eager to make conversation, they said, “How was your trip?” I told them about the bathroom attendant at the bus stop, a little old lady with a tip jar on a folding chair outside the door, dispensing wads of single-ply toilet paper from a lone roll. “No cologne.” I told them about the porcelain footprints inside the stall, the elegant hole in the ground over which I squatted. “It got me thinking; I should have my toilet removed back home. Go minimal, modern, make a statement.”
“How long will you stay?” some friends of my parents asked over the roar of the boat’s engine the next day. A small party of us was motoring to the island of Skopelos.
“I’m here for the month of August,” I yelled back.
Tired from my trip, I was at first excited by the roar of the engine, anticipating a few hours’ lull in conversation.
“She doesn’t talk much, your daughter!” our host yelled to my father.
“She doesn’t talk much, your daughter?”
“What?” my dad yelled back.
Then they put the radio on, turning the volume high enough for it to be heard over the engine. Then they raised their voices so they could be heard over the radio. They talked about the view, about the sea and the sky. “It’s so relaxing,” they yelled in agreement.
Back at the house, every room is filled with guests, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. In the afternoon, after lunch, I slip off to my room for a nap. Drowsy from the midday heat, I shut my eyes and listen. Eventually the voices drift away. I dream of a long conversation, but when I wake, remember none of what was said.
In the early evening, I step onto the front patio and find Dimitra, my cousin’s four-year-old daughter, dancing before an audience of our family. They clap and laugh as she wiggles from side to side. They call her “i micrí,” which means “the little one.” It’s what they used to call me. My mother stops clapping and says she doesn’t like my dress. “What’s wrong with it?” I ask, looking down.
“It looks old.”
With Dimitra, conversation is easy. When she stops dancing, she sits next to me and I ask, “What color is the sky?” She says, “Blue.” I ask, “What does the rooster say?” “Koo-koorikoo,” she sings. “And the dog?” “Ghav, ghav,” because Greek dogs bark in Greek. Then she, Mamoù (her stuffed monkey), and I sit for coffee. Mamoù drinks too much too fast and becomes sick. I tell him I understand; sometimes I drink too much coffee, too. The micrí reprimands him, and I jump to his defense. I say, “Give the monkey a break, i micrí! He’s had a
In the kitchen my aunt flips on the radio, and the voices of a Greek talk show waft out. Dimitra jumps up and begins dancing to an argument about the Greek economy ?— ?Dimitra can dance to anything. Eager for some silence, I head down to the beach and stare out to sea. The wind is loud. The trees, too. The leaves rustle furiously as if urgently relating an opinion; everyone’s got something to say.
I take my bike into town after and am stopped by a flock of sheep blocking the narrow path that leads to the village. I stand and wait for them to pass. When they see me, all the sheep behh; they disapprove of my outfit ?— ?I should have worn the green dress. “Sometimes, Iris, it’s like you don’t even want to get married,” the sheep say. Then the sheepdog emerges from the crowd, a big shot barking orders.
An old mustachioed shepherd watches silently in the distance. Single? Eventually they pass and the road is clear again. The sheep clink off with their ears marked for slaughter.
“You don’t have forever,” the last sheep tells me before he turns away.
I shrug. “Neither do you. You’re gonna die, you know,” I say. “And your jacket’s old-fashioned.”
I spin through the olive groves and the wind fills my hair. How old am I?
I pull my bike across the gravel path an hour later and find my parents on the porch with their feet up. I join them. Dimitra sits beside me and asks why my feet are so large. “To match my nose,” I tell her.
My mother complains that I’m antisocial, that I should make more of an effort to see my friends here in town, to talk with them, or else “they might stop talking to you, too. You don’t want to become a hermit,” she warns. She says, “Why don’t you go out tonight?” the same way she used to say, “Must you go out every night?”
The road to and from our house is less a road than a narrow dirt trail cut out from some trees that leads to a clearing by the beach where our house rests. The “road” passes olive groves, orchards of plum, pear, and quince, and farms with chickens and roosters and their guards ?— ?more asshole dogs. After an evening at a café in town talking with friends, the sky is black and littered with stars like empty soda cans and the embers of discarded cigarettes.
I drive back in a gold 1982 diesel Mercedes we call “the Tank,” which my parents shipped here ten years ago. It is the car with which I learned to drive, the car I took to
Thurber Award for American Humor, Semi-Finalist
One of the Believer's "Best Books of the Year"
One of the Nervous Breakdown's "Best Books of the Year"
“The prodigiously inventive Smyles melds novel, autobiography, and all manner of asides as she flails at art, love, and friendship with the wry intelligence of someone just wise enough to realize they have no idea what they're doing. A flat-out joy to read.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Dating Tips for the Unemployed is a charming (yes, charming!), bravura performance by a writer whose comic chops, literary inventiveness, and crisp prose produce the smoothest of literary smoothies, something like a cocktail of Dorothy Parker, James Joyce, and Philip Roth iced, sweetened, and blended.”
—The Nervous Breakdown
“Especially if you power through it in one sitting—or one 'lounging'—this collection of rambling and loose-jointed vignettes perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being mired in the strange muck of the late '20s and early '30s, stuck between 'fake adult' and 'actual adult.' Interspersed with amusingly bizarre vintage advertisements for books like Crafting With Cannoli Box String, Smyles' book feels like leafing through an extraordinary personal diary, at times both blunt and lyrical.”
—Elle, "8 Next-Level Beach Reads"
“Whimsy, satire, and rollicking social commentary… Ms. Smyles is a misanthrope-of-the-people, a standout on the order of Fran Lebowitz.”
—East Hampton Star
“The title isn’t just a cuteness, this is a practical book for impractical people. In this chronicle of one woman’s navigation through the creeping normalnesses of 21stcentury life, you will find helpful tips like 'Never date someone more or less miserable than you,' translations of party talk, and ideas for board games amid advertisements for home courses in snake handling, dream interpretation guides, and a novelization of Weekend at Bernie’s 2. And yet, there’s so much more than novelty at the heart of Dating Tips, which is ultimately a classical reckoning with modern love and a sure way to turn a disappointing day around or find solitary delight while fully clothed.”
—Believer, "Our Favorite Books from 2016"
“Structured in small episodes like Homer's Odyssey, which serves as an epigraph for the book, Smyles' adventuress calls to mind a Jane Bowles heroine who's read Ulysses while scrolling in despair through 10 open apps on her iPhone. Smyles' portrayal of Iris in all her weirdness offers much to recognize, fear, and embrace. Walking the line between self-obsession and thoughtful portraiture, Smyles explores an inextricable link between sex and loneliness, self-loathing and self-acceptance in contemporary New York.”
“In engaging episodes, Iris-the-character neurotically navigates dating in New York City, smokes pot on Greek islands with hapless lovers, drinks too much, deals with disapproving family, and eats a lot of cannoli. Smyles's surreal, lyrical voice elevates these every day scenarios into the realm of the fantastic and absurd. Included in the book are hilariously stylized advertisements full of false promises, such as 'Health Secrets of the Roman Empire' and 'Have Your Portrait Painted By An Elephant!' all for a price. Smyles is sharp, melancholy, and wickedly funny. She is unafraid to reveal and revel in her character's flaws because it is what makes them so achingly, relatably human.”
“Crafty comic writer Iris Smyles continues to follow the life of her fictional antihero, Iris, in Dating Tips for the Unemployed...She resumes her witty, self-deprecating and often self-defeating search for a place in the world...A clever, insightful glimpse into the often absurd existence of an intellectual young woman who makes the idea of floundering in life into a laudable art form.”
“You have never heard anything so funny in your entire life. You just laugh at the first sentence.”
—Linda Rodin, Elle (Australia)
“Iris Smyles has reinvented Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly for the 21st century.”
—Edmund White, author of City Boy and Marcel Proust: A Life
“There are two kinds of people in this world, those without peanut allergies and those who cannot tolerate peanuts or any food produced or packaged in a facility that processes peanuts. Both will love this book.”
“Similar to Tolstoy's War and Peace, but much funnier and shorter.”
“An incandescent weave of fiction, essay, and spoof…. Iris Smyles is an original and her fictional doppelgänger “Iris Smyles” is one of literature's most charismatic innocents, a Donna Quixote lost in the new world.”
—Frederic Tuten, author of Tin Tin in the New World
“My favorite writer.”
—Tom McCarthy, author of Satin Island and C
"I love this book. But I wish there were more dogs in it.”
—Patricia Marx, author of Let’s Be Less Stupid
“An astounding work of genre-bending fun by an obvious genius.”
—Steve Hely, author of How I Became a Famous Novelist
“Normally when I read a book, it’s a lot of squinting, mumbling, and moving of lips before I’m asked to leave the bus station altogether. But Iris Smyles somehow manages to transport me to another world entirely, where thankfully none of that matters and I can just get lost in her hilarious, absurd, and dare I say (yes, I do!) elegant prose. More please!”
—Dave Hill, author of Tasteful Nudes and Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
“I didn't read this book and I didn't have to. On the cover, it said IRIS SMYLES and that's more than enough for me. Like logos for Coca-Cola, Fritos and Entenmann's, Iris' name assures me that what's inside... is so yummy.”
*Alec Baldwin was paid for this endorsement.
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