BookBrowse Reviews Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes

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Barbara the Slut and Other People

by Lauren Holmes

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes X
Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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This debut collection of stories centers on loneliness and isolation and the pursuit of love in contemporary America.

Barbara the Slut and Other People, a debut collection of short stories by Lauren Holmes, has a title that will repel some but readers looking for a fresh, twenty-first century perspective on modern life are advised to pick it up. In these ten stories, Holmes, with an admirable balance of humor and poignancy, tackles the choices we make in love, work, family and friendships. Concerned predominantly with teenage and young adult characters, Holmes writes in a fresh open style and doesn't shy away from strong language or explicit descriptions.

As the title would suggest, sex is a common theme in these tales. In "How am I Supposed to Talk to You," twenty-year-old Lala travels to Mexico to stay with her mother – a mother she has not seen in three years – and tell her she is gay. In "Mike Anonymous," Vivian works in an STD clinic; in "Desert Hearts," directionless law graduate Brenda pretends to be a lesbian in order to gain employment in a sex toy shop. And in "Barbara the Slut," high-school senior Barbara may have earned herself a place next year at Princeton, but she has also earned her nickname and is on the end of some harsh treatment as a result.

There is, however, much more going on here than the sex. These are stories about loneliness and isolation and about the pursuit of love in contemporary America. In one of the most laugh-out-loud amusing stories in the collection, "Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love," Pearl, who is a pit-bull, gradually gains the affections of her owner's lover — ironically just at the same time as her owner stops falling in love and heartily wishes the Swiss Guy out of her life. In contrast, in "Weekend with Beth, Kelly, Muscle and Pammy," Jason, a friendless twenty-something living in New York longs for a relationship but is unable to take the leap and get together with his best friend from college, Beth.

In the main, the characters in Barbara the Slut and Other People are likable, believable people, struggling to find themselves and the key to happiness. It is easy, in most of the stories, to have empathy for the characters' dilemmas and issues. A perceptive dramatization of the callousness and self-centredness of youth, "New Girls" features Holmes' youngest protagonist, Steph, an American tween uprooted to Germany, who defines herself by the way she sees and is seen by her peer group at school. It is a testament to Holmes' ability to bring her characters to life that several of the stories left me wanting to know more, but on the negative side, this does mean that sometimes there is a lack of resolution that may disappoint some readers.

The majority of Holmes' characters are believable, fallible, funny and endearing. She doesn't pull her punches with her subject or language choices and for the most part she is highly successful in creating characters that struggle with decisions and choices in a very human and recognizable way. The title story is a great example of this as Barbara – a caring and intelligent girl - has also made some very poor choices. Where she has a strong but fallible character at the heart of her story, Holmes is at her best. That level fell short in "My Humans" - a story told from the point of view of a pet dog – and in "Mike Anonymous" – where the narrator witnesses the struggles of a man and a prostitute.

These criticisms notwithstanding, as a collection, Barbara the Slut and Other People is a fresh and thought-provoking read.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2015, and has been updated for the August 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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