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Barbara the Slut and Other People By Lauren Holmes

barbara the slutBarbara the Slut and Other People is a debut collection of 10 stories that capture the angst of adolescence and the passion and betrayal that often characterize young love. In the title story, Barbara is a smart, sensitive high school senior. Her grades are excellent, and she is awaiting acceptance into Princeton University. She is a loving and responsible sister to her autistic brother.

But Barbara also has a pair of qualities that other girls her age do not have—confidence in her body and a discerning eye when it comes to boys. She enjoys sex and has a one-time rule to avoid emotional entanglements. And for all this she is envied, ridiculed, and verbally abused. Author Lauren Holmes uses this tale to highlight the pertinent issue of bullying and its impact on young lives.

Another story, “Desert Hearts,” is about a recently graduated lawyer who moves to San Francisco with her fiancé. Brenda is ambivalent about her career choices. Having just passed the California Bar Exam, she says she “doesn’t have the heart” to join a law firm. Instead, she gets a job in a sex toy shop and pretends to be a lesbian. Despite stereotypic jokes, some parts of the story are laugh-out-loud funny. The humor camouflages the loneliness of the main character and the degree to which she is isolated and misunderstood by the man she loves.

Similarly, “My Humans” looks at another unraveling relationship through the eyes of a shelter dog named “Princess.” The unquestioning devotion of a dog is juxtaposed with the infidelity of her human counterparts. And the dog’s fondness for messiness mirrors life itself.

Barbara the Slut and Other People offers a funny and poignant look at modern love. To quote Eugenia Williamson of the Boston Globe:

Though the book is thick with imperfect characters, the same cannot be said for the stories contained therein: There isn’t a dud in the bunch. Holmes’s is a welcome, refreshing new voice in American fiction. Or, as Princess might put it, “There is a new smell and it’s an incredibly good smell.”

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