Saturday, September 19, 2015

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes


Rating: WARTY!

This was a mixed bag for me. I got the advance review copy under the impression (wrongly, obviously!) that it was a story about one person and their interactions with family and friends. It felt like it would an episodic, but coherent whole. In the end, it was a collection of short stories, none of which had anything to do with any of the others. I'm not a big fan of short story collections, but in for a penance, in for a pounding, so off I went.

The first two stories I felt were good, so I was off to a great start; they went downhill for me after that, however. I don’t like full length novels where the plot bounces like a pinball spastically between different sets of characters, even when the whole thing is supposed to come together in a final whole, but at least when it moves around like that, you eventually get to come back to the characters you like and really wanted to read about in the first place!

This means, as I said, that I tend to like collections of short stories less, especially if they’re unconnected. Indeed, the only connection between these stories, it seemed to me, was that they were preponderantly about weak, equivocating women who were obsessed with sex - or when not having sex, were doing drugs. This made them unappealing to me as characters or people. It seemed like they had no life other than drugs and sex, and even when the drugs and sex were not directly to do with them, they were still in the story affecting their lives.

Yes, there was a variety of locale and person in the stories, so on the one hand they were, in a small way, all different, and a reader has a better chance of finding a story they like in those circumstances, but on the other hand, the stories a person might like are over far too quickly, and the reader knows that they’re never going to eventually get back to these characters later in the book. It was with these mixed feelings that I read through this. On the up-side, it was a short and fast read!

As I said, the first two stories were appealing to me, but they were over far too quickly and then rest of the novel went downhill, apart from two brief upticks. The eponymous short story, which came last, was the worst of all, and the title had obviously been chosen for its prurient value. Despite that, I was actually hoping for it to bear me something edifying, ironic, or humorous, but it never did. In the end, it took the same exit from this freeway that all of these stories did: it fizzled out rather sadly, as though the author didn’t know what to do with it (and we’ve all been there, haven’t we, so I do sympathize!).

We’re told that stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end – the standard three-act scenario. I’m not one who subscribes to that kind of rigid paradigm, but that said, I felt rather unsatisfied after every one of these stories, even the few I liked. The best of them were like eating a satisfying meal, but after this I felt I’d been promised an equally fulfilling desert, and it was never served. I wanted something more from it, but I was denied time after time. Maybe this was a result of the story being short - too short for me, maybe! The thing is that I wasn’t necessarily looking for a conclusion or a resolution in the traditional sense; I was looking only for something more than I was delivered. Let’s look at each story.

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO YOU?
This one featured a young woman in a lesbian relationship who has not come out to her mother. Her dad knows, but is separated from her Mexican mom who lives south of the border, down Mexico way. This story actually should have clued me in better in regard to what to expect from this collection, but it was a new book, I was up for it and evidently blinded by the fact that I enjoyed this one despite the discovery that it really went nowhere in the end. The main character, Lala isn’t strong at all and has no idea how to broach this topic with her own mom, but we're never really given a good reason as to why, having already told dad, her mom should be so much harder to face. Even after the matter is dealt with, there is no aftermath to explore. The story is over, and the character hurries back home, making me feel as though the author herself was dedicatedly hurrying on to the next tale in the collection. To its credit, this was one story which didn't obsess loosely on sex.

WEEKEND WITH BETH, KELLY, MUSCLE, AND PAMMY
I just about liked this story, but it wasn't because of the main character, who was male, but because of Beth, who to me was a stunner of a woman about whom I could read a whole novel were the character to be handled in it like she was here. She was a breath of fresh air, I couldn’t have cared less about the other characters. The story, unfortunately, focused on the guy, and his rather loose and physical relationships with females. It would not have appealed to me at all were it not for Beth's appearances. A story about sex, pretty much.

MIKE ANONYMOUS
This story is about a Japanese guy who has poor English language, trying to get an STD test after having sex with a prostitute. I found this story to be just stupid and vaguely racist. Another story about sex.

I WILL CRAWL TO RALEIGH IF I HAVE TO
This one was thoroughly unsatisfying, too. It was another story about a woman who was unable to get out from under a guy - not literally this time, but figuratively. When it wasn't about him it was about drugs. To me it read like an endless whine and I didn't enjoy it at all..

DESERT HEARTS
This is about a liar/lawyer who talks herself into a job at a store where the first question they ask her is "Are you a lesbian?" This is what she lies about. The store is a sex toy retailer (so there's the sex again). It really went nowhere although it was more entertaining than any of the other stories. This was an odd one because, due to the fact that my phone randomly changes my place in ebooks when it's riding around in my pocket and not switched off, I missed this. It was only when I started writing the review and briefly reviewing the stories, that I realized I hadn't read it! If this has been a full length novel, I would have known immediately that I was reading in the wrong place, but I couldn't tell here. I was glad it was somewhat entertaining, but it wasn't nearly entertaining enough to reverse my opinion as to how entertaining this book was overall.
PEARL AND THE SWISS GUY FALL IN LOVE
This was about objectifying men, really. The guy never even gets a name, yet the main character has endless sex with this virtual stranger, and lets him move in with her even as she doesn't want this, yet is too weak to tell him to move out. It was really, seriously, honestly boring and pointless, and no fun to read.

NEW GIRLS
This is nothing but a list of German friends this snotty young American girl makes and ditches when she moves with her family to Germany. Kudos for bringing in a diversity of locales and character origins, but this was really boring.
MY HUMANS
This was the first uptick on the down-slide. It's the story of a break-up told from the dog's PoV, which was quite inventive and entertaining.
JERKS
This was completely tedious despite being, in part, about a hearing impaired woman who babysits a hearing impaired child. There was so much potential there for a real story, but I never got that story. Instead I got more sex. This woman is limp and motive-less, fresh out of a relationship and falling almost immediately into bed with some random guy she meets. There was, for me, no entertainment value at all.
BARBARA THE SLUT
This is about a highly promiscuous high-school girl two years from graduation, and it began as though it might actually be entertaining, but it was really Mary Sue the Slut, not Barbara. I thought the author was going to make use of the title and run with it, but she never did. The title was simply the name by which this girl was known universally in her school, and that was pretty much the entire story.

Whatever it was that was being attempted here didn't work. The author, despite actually being female, doesn't seem to know the difference between a vagina and a vulva! I mean, you can pat a vagina, but it's really hard to do, and highly uncomfortable if not downright painful for the woman whose vagina is being patted. Much easier to pat a vulva, but do get permission first.

I can't in good faith recommend this one. It showed definite promise in parts, but overall wasn't the ticket to reading pleasure I'd hoped for. The women were too much alike in their dithering ineptitude and lackluster view of life, they showed little to no improvement, were almost universally walked all over by men, and their insipid and uninteresting qualities were not leavened by anything.


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