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Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories
ISBN 0-06-056207-2

By Hollis Gillespie
Review by: Michelle Humphrey


Wherever Gillespie has been in the world, she has studied well, and knows what appears to be a hidden secret in memoir writing. Where too many current titles vault into a rambling that’s cathartic for the author but pure tedium for the reader, Gillespie creates vignettes that accomplish one of the prime tasks of the genre: she transforms her memories into a provocative and genuinely moving experience. In Confessions of a Recovering Slut, her second memoir, we again meet her mother, an atheistic rocket scientist and part-time kleptomaniac, and her father, a beery trailer salesman. Ultimately, they’re the leaders of an ensemble of has-beens, packrats and tattered nomads who have given the author volumes of A-list comedic material and an enviable sense of hope and love in her life.

In the chapter called “Stolen Things,” Gillespie’s attempt at shoplifting at the age of five sends her on a path of self-induced moral terror – convinced she’s headed for Hell, she comes home to find her father compelled for no reason to bake his daughter a cake. In “Trashy Bartenders with Beehive Hairdos,” a narrative winds from her quirky friend Grant who beehives his hair for a bartending gig to the beehived bartender of her childhood, a retro-raunchy, hard-bitten woman named Kit who mothers Hollis in the musty shadows of the bar where the young girl spends long formative hours with her father. In “The Side of the Road, “ Gillespie joins Grant on a road trip in which he searches for wayward Jesuses – statues, paintings, whatnot (the iconography has a weird campy hold on him). The usual comic tone prevails until they come upon a village of scattered shacks. There, Gillespie spies a small ancient woman sleeping in a chair, and captures her in a painterly cameo of withered dark and luminous light. This is the typical Gillespie vignette: surreal humor that unravels with ease into a starkly epiphanous moment.

What the author needs to perfect now is the task of writing sequels – Slut doesn’t continue where Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood left off. Instead, it is a collection of sketches that are largely interchangeable with those of her first book. She reprises characters, images, jokes and quotes (like her mother’s standard response when faced with the piously narrow-minded: “What bigger hell is there than a heaven full of people like that?”). Bleachy-Haired was about Gillespie’s transformation from neurotic Bohemian to (sort-of) respectable homeowner; in Slut, she becomes a single mother, weaving the free spirit of her daughter Milly into otherwise creepy crime scenes happening in her dilapidated neighborhood. Milly’s father is active in her life (that fact is mentioned as a footnote), but he’s nowhere in the story. This in itself is not a weakness in her plot – in fact, I commend Gillespie for pulling off two books which don’t glom onto a quest for a man. But it does bring to the fore the absence of stories – plots that don’t appear in Bleachy-Haired, as well as hidden aspects of the author’s persona – i.e., ideal material for a second book. In memoir, sequels dig deeper, veer off the established path and go to those places – unsettling, enraging, uproarious – that the first book wasn’t quite ready to handle. There’s a strong sense in Slut that something remains untapped – an alter ego, a vignette that resists coming full circle, or an overarching tension that the best memoirs offer (even the funny ones), and the kind of writing well within Gillespie’s expertise.

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