Question: What do a lab clinician at an STD testing center, a faux lesbian at a sex-toy shop and a promiscuous but high-achieving teen have in common?
Answer: a sly, sardonic voice and strong sense of character that could come only from the brain of Lauren Holmes.
In Holmes’s first short story collection, Barbara the Slut, these narrators drop anchor and tell their stories one by one. In “Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love,” a 20-something New Yorker takes a shine to a foreign guy she meets on the Internet, only to lose interest once he invites himself to move into her apartment. In “How Am I Supposed to Talk to You,” a young woman flies to Mexico, hoping to reconnect with her estranged mother--who is way more interested in a side gig selling lingerie on the beach. And in the title story, a high-school senior with an acceptance letter to Princeton takes on her school’s slut-shaming culture with wry aplomb.
The ladies here are decidedly millennial, and if there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that their jittery, disaffected voices are awfully alike from one story to the next.
Still, this is a voice we were happy to have in our heads for 272 pages--and we’re crossing our fingers that Holmes still has a novel up her sleeve.