Barbara the Slut and Other People and me

Some things have been sticking with me lately. Stories that I can’t shake. Women I wish I knew, could sit next to, siphon strength off of. I first read Lauren Holmes’ story “How Am I Supposed to Talk to You” in Granta but I didn’t put two and two together until I was reading it again in Holmes’ new book of short stories Barbara the Slut and Other People (Riverhead Books, 2015) when the first paragraph was like recognizing an old friend in an unexpected place. The women in these stories are so interesting, struggling with completely different issues in their day-to-day but belonging in this book equally. The character who takes a job working at a sex toy store in “Desert Hearts” where she hides from the pressure and expectation of early adulthood after graduating from law school. The titular high school student Barbara who vows to never sleep with the same guy twice and because of that is never really seen by anyone other than her autistic brother, waiting for the promise of university to save her from a school of narrow-minded bullies.  “My Humans,” a story narrated by a lovably smelly rescue dog who is witness to all the strange smells and emotional misunderstandings of a failing relationship. God knows what dogs pick up on that we just can’t but this stood out to me as one of the strangest and enjoyable stories I’ve read in a long time. While not all the 10 stories holds the same magic that the ones I’ve talked about here, they are all truly fascinating as a primer on what Holmes is capable of.

I’ve read so much this year, and often when I finish a book I think about what I would say about it but then it’s gone and I’m on to the next one. This book made me pause. Made me stare out the bus window for a stretch and just sit, so content in what I had just experienced. It’s not often that a novel, let alone a book of short stories will do that to me. It’s been a good season for great books. I’ve been meaning to write about others–Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay.

Hopefully, I’ll get around to that too but I’ve been curled up all day watching Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None on Netflix. What a great great show. It has so much to say about diversity on TV, sexism and has one of the best on-screen relationships I’ve seen since Coach and Tami. There’s joy in a show like this, and a level of craft that you might not expect from Aziz but he co-wrote and produced it, so I’ve got to give it to him. The episode Indians on TV in particular really sat with me, using real footage from other television shows of Indian stereotypes. I can’t wait to see where it goes in season two.

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