Say what you want about Hollis Gillespie. Say that her stories are obscene and shallow, that she exaggerates facts for the sake of entertainment, that her conclusions are too pat and cute. Say any of it - it’s all true. And in spite of these sins, I would still invite her out for cocktails any day of the week, because I know she would make me laugh until those cocktails came out of my nose.
Confessions of a Recovering Slut, the latest from Hollis Gillespie, is a collection of autobiographical vignettes that picks up where her last book, Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch, left off - with Gillespie living next door to crack-addicted prostitutes in Atlanta’s worst neighborhood. Confessions tells of her freakish friends, her sexually-liberated past, her kleptomaniac mother, and all their wacky adventures together: crashing Benny Hinn conventions, faking epileptic fits on the street, hijacking neighborhood bars, making fake fortune cookies with malicious predictions and slipping them back into the bowl at the Chinese restaurant. Sounds fun, right? It is. But the wacky adventures come to a screeching halt when Gillespie discovers she is pregnant. She decides to have the baby (she doesn’t say why, although it seems like a reasonable question) and her life dramatically changes - you can probably guess how. The stories take a turn for the worse: heartwarming descriptions of her three-year-old’s adorable smile, complaining about not being able to lose weight, feeling like a slob with no life. Even bubbly old Hollis can't breath life into such banal topics, but she gives it her best shot.
Gillespie's strong suits are her magnetic personality and energetic language; those who like Laurie Notaro will like Gillespie, and those who like David Sedaris will be reminded of him. She has an irrepressible narrative talent that makes her writing easy to read and enjoy: she genuinely relishes telling her rollicking stories in gory, anatomically-correct detail. However, somewhere along the line, her courage fails her. Each chapter starts with a zinger of a story, but then falters at the end with a dab at moist eyes, a precious moment, or a pat moral, and the book as a whole follows a trajectory from outrageous to mawkish. She's on the right track - books of zany stories benefit from having a transcending message; ideally, Confessions should give insight into what happens when a self-proclaimed iconoclast settles for a life of home-ownership and child-bearing. She tries to deliver these insights, but they come out sounding schmaltzy and strained; she would have been better off editing out the sappy endings and delivering an unapologetically saucy book - the quality of the storytelling could have stood on its own.
The blurb on the back says, “Follow the adventures of Hollis Gillespie as she attempts to leave behind her crazy past and embrace motherhood.” Why would we want to do that? Give me "crazy past" any day of week - preferably on the day that Hollis and I go out for cocktails.