Seeking new reading experiences is what I live for as a reader. I will always find comfort in reading my tried and true favorite genres and narratives, but I also regularly seek stories that are new to me and outside of my lived experience. That’s a major aspect of what I mean when I say “read diverse books.” It means to read books with narratives different than your own and to read them with an open mind and respect.
Reading Lez Talk (edited by S. Andrea Allen) was both a new and familiar experience for me. It was new because I’ve read very few books with Black lesbian protagonists or books about Black lesbian life. And it was familiar because as a Queer person I could relate to many of the experiences depicted in the stories in superficial and sometimes intimate ways. But the beauty of this collection was that the stories are universal. Sure, some of the specific details and nuances may resonate more with certain people more than others, but on a macro scale, these stories about love (both familial and romantic), joy, loss, isolation, and conflict are universal.
This anthology is made up of 16 stories with beautiful variety, more than I initially expected. There are stories about young women, older women, women with mental illnesses, and Afro-Cuban representation. There’s even speculative fiction mixed in with stories about romance and contemporary life. For me, this variety is a plus. For others, the frequent shift in tone and subject matter may be off-putting. To fully enjoy this anthology, or most anthologies and short story collections, one must savor each story individually and be accepting of the fact that the next story may be drastically different. I read this book over the course of a week, taking in 2-3 stories each day, to great effect.
Erzulie’s Touch – by Claudia Moss
This is my favorite story in the collection by far. It’s about a mysterious Cuban woman who enters the lives of a couple (Norma Jean & Bae Girl) and brings some much-needed excitement into their relationship. The woman’s name is Erzulie and she doesn’t speak any English. Or at least she chooses not to. The story is littered with Spanish phrases and often several sentences at a time written in Spanish with just enough context in English to understand what is happening. As a Spanish-speaker, I absolutely loved the intimate connection I had with the story and appreciated the inclusion of an Afro-Latina. The story also had subtle fantastical elements because Erzulie’s presence had a strange effect on Norma Jean and Bae-Girl – they naturally understood everything Erzulie said in Spanish, despite not being fluent speakers. It felt like magical realism and I thought it was actually very cool and well-done. There’s also positive representation of polyamory, so that was nice to see as well!
One More – by La Toya Hankins
Such a good story! It follows the life of a woman, Toni, from childhood, through her teen years, college, and into adulthood in the modern day, after marriage equality became the law of the land. Toni’s mother objected to her being a lesbian for decades, so they never had a close relationship. But when Toni is about to get married, literally the day of her wedding, her mother surprises her with a visit and the story ends with the potential of a mended relationship between mother and daughter. This was a feel-good story that brought a smile to my face by the end. Queer literature needs more of these kinds of stories.
Two Moons – by K. A. Smith
One of the more heart-warming stories in the collection. It’s a short and sweet piece of speculative fiction / magical realism that was beautifully written and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Selene is a girl who loves the moon. She basks and dances in its light almost every night, sometimes for hours. Her mother is concerned about her special daughter and she thinks her fascination with the moon will bring trouble to her life. One day, the moon, named Luna, begins to take notice of Selene from the heavens and eventually falls in love with her too. Their connection is so strong in fact that…well, I don’t want to give anything away, but the title should be enough of a hint.
As with any collection, some stories stood out immediately and others were forgettable. In particular, I felt the contemporary, realistic stories were executed better than some of the speculative fiction pieces. With the exception of “Two Moons,” I found the other spec fic stories to be a bit dense and it was difficult to immerse myself in a world I only got a fleeting look into. Whereas the more “realistic” stories were easier to enjoy and understand from the get-go. It’s clear that my favorite stories in the collection were the more positive, lighthearted ones. Thankfully, there are plenty of them in Lez Talk! Darker and more serious stories are prominent and memorable as well, but they’re wonderfully balanced by many feel-good stories that after finishing the collection, your holistic impression should be a positive one. If you are a fan of short fiction or short stories, then add Lez Talk to your TBR right now. And if you like books that are unapologetically Queer, you should have added this book yesterday!
Disclosure: The author provided a free copy of this book for review consideration.
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