How Are You Going to Save Yourself asks questions about race and sex, about families and about what happens to us when communications break down. It's a shockingly powerful debut collection from a writer whose talent seems almost limitless ... Holmes addresses the difficulties inherent in all kinds of relationships ... Holmes writes with a brutal honesty in every story, posing questions many would rather leave unasked ... It's hard to overstate what an incredible writer Holmes is. He has a real gift for phrasing ... a debut book that reads like the work of a writer with decades of experience. It's an unflinching look at themes that not too many authors are eager to tackle, and a book that asks important questions and challenges the reader to answer them honestly, as uncomfortable as those answers might be.
The raucous, heartbreaking, bawdy tales in JM Holmes’s debut collection possess an assured lyricism, uncompromising in its interrogation of race, class, drugs and family ... In the explosive opener ... the story culminates in a moment so brutally honest, so quietly ferocious, it left me dazed ... As with any collection, some stories are stronger than others. Holmes renders male characters with microscopic precision; the same level of nuance afforded to his female characters would have added even more depth ... he is a distinctive writer ... Spare in style, strikingly urgent, his is a voice to get excited about.
Particularly in coming-of-age fiction, dialogue can be a liability; quips can mask nuance, and realism is aspired to far more often than it’s reached. But dialogue is the engine, the power, of How Are You Going to Save Yourself. Holmes’ uncanny ear is so delicately rendered that the book not only bursts with life during each back-and-forth, but it evolves, steeped as it is in the rhythms of family squabbles and serious discussions and, most centrally, friends shooting the s—t ... If not overwhelming, How Are You Going to Save Yourself is certainly tough, entrusting its players’ words (and, perhaps more importantly, lack thereof) to communicate what their actions cannot. The trick doesn’t work every time. But the message sings throughout, and the final blow Holmes delivers is inescapably staggering.