cover image Barbara the Slut

Barbara the Slut

Lauren Holmes. Riverhead, $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59463-378-2

Holmes presents 10 first-person narratives in this collection, an eminently readable debut from a fresh voice. Use of the m word%E2%80%94Millennial%E2%80%94is inevitable when describing these stories, as they're filled with young people taking stock of their surroundings with shrugs and resigned sighs at their own diminished expectations. A lab tech at an STD clinic, who is stalling in applying to grad school ("I was thinking I might want to study public health, but I was also thinking I might want to move to the forest and eat berries and mushrooms and hibernate with the bears in the winter"), must act as an unlikely emissary for an unusual patient. A recent law school grad who can't bring herself to practice law, a career path bankrolled by her father, and can't "think of anything that I actually wanted to do" begins working in a sex-toy store. The most ambitious character is the titular Barbara, who is biding her time until she can get to Princeton, trying to persevere in an environment that still punishes her for having both a sex life and a clear-eyed distrust of her high school sexual partners. Holmes writes with ease and humor: there's an underpants scheme, an extreme germaphobe, and even a story from the perspective of a dog. Though there's too much sameness in these stories (the protagonists are mostly interchangeable), it never diminishes the extent of their perception, wit, and liveliness. A wonderful debut. Agent: Duvall Osteen, the Aragi Agency. (Aug.)