How do you even start reviewing a collection of short stories/essays? Story by story? As a whole? Both? The Boring Index comes to the rescue!

Who wrote these?  Lauren Holmes, a young American author of short stories. Barbara the Slut is her first book, but before that her work appeared in Granta and Guernica.

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How many stories do I need to read? There’s 10 stories which are about 40 Kindle pages. I’m just guessing that this amounts to 20-ish regular pages.

What was the least boring story? For me this was a tie between My Humans, which is a story of a break up told through the eyes of Princess the Dog or the title story Barbara The Slut, which is about Barbara who sleeps around during high school and gets called a slut, and her brother who has high functioning  autism and gets teased because of it.

What was the most boring story? All the stories have some interesting aspect to them, but if I would have to pick my least favorite it would be New Girls. It’s a story about a girl moving from America to a small town in Germany and how her parents force her to become friends with the girls that are around. It is the story I remember least.

Short Story Boring Index: Lauren Holmes is a good writer. She’s very matter of fact in her style, but still knows how to evoke strong feelings and images. Her range is also very impressive as she narrates men, women and dogs, straight and gay, with ease. Many of the stories focus around moments in the characters lives where they go from being funny to what I like to call ‘I’m laughing so I won’t cry’ moments.  I especially found Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love a great example of this. Pearl is dating and meets this Swiss guy who’s going back to Switzerland way too soon. She’s so head over heels, she invites him to stay with her for a couple of weeks before he leaves the country. This goes from loving that he’s around to avoiding him for the last week by pretending to be asleep. The images Holmes conjures made me laugh, but if I would have to live it, it would be a nightmare.

I do think funny is where Holmes is best. Her voice lends to very funny observing jokes that make you think well after reading the book. The heavy emotional side of some stories didn’t come through for me however. In Desert Hearts a young woman moves to a small town with her fiance and then starts to work in a sex shop instead of as lawyer. Her father hates it and has always been tough on her. They fight and it doesn’t feel very emotional, because the woman doesn’t feel much herself. At the end of the story she does burst out into tears when she adopts a dog, giving us the emotional pay-off, but now I was the one feeling nothing. Many of the characters Holmes writes are a little stoic, which allows them to observe rather than feel. This is what she does very well, but it makes such outbursts of strong emotions feel a little undeserved. So I preferred the smaller moments in this story collection, the ones where the characters don’t yet see the mistakes they’re making, the moments just before they get really lost.

Review Copy attained through Netgalley with special thanks to the publisher Fourth Estate.

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Author

Esmée de Heer is head honcho over at the Bored to Death book club website, writing the daily content and making sure the site stays up and running. She's one of the founding sisters of the book club and enjoys reading and giving unsolicited love advice.

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