The Next Girl and Other Lesbian Tales by Tawanna Sullivan is an eclectic short story collection with a little something for everyone. I live for short story collections, so I was excited to discover this writer. I use the term “discover” loosely here, because Sullivan is one of the founders of Kuma2.net, a website that focused on publishing Black lesbian erotica back in the early 2000s, so she’s been writing for quite some time. While I was familiar with the website, I’d never read any of Sullivan’s work.
The Next Girl is a collection of previously published work, so if you’re already a fan, you might recognize some of the stories. If not, I think most of you will enjoy what this writer has to offer. The first couple of stories are erotica, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure that they fit in this anthology at all, since the remaining stories are a range of horror, mystery, and general fiction. Still, sex sells, and it’s also clear after reading the collection that sexy stories are Sullivan’s bailiwick.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is also one of the strangest. “In Remembrance of Her” focuses on Laura, a woman whose partner Nia was murdered the previous year. It’s full of secret societies, creepy plantations, and quite possibly werewolves. Another favorite is “Cat and Mouse,” also a murder mystery. Although I liked this story, particularly the protagonist’s relationship with her cat, Mr. Scissors, I was bothered by the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but know that it left me a little confused and unsatisfied.
Other stories in the collection include “The Getaway,” a murder mystery of sorts; the title story, “The Next Girl,” which reminds us that the grave you dig for someone else might be the one you find yourself buried in; and “Operation Butch Ambush,” an interesting comment on butch/femme stereotypes. While promising, the story felt rushed and unfinished. I think Sullivan missed an opportunity here, and ended up perpetuating more stereotypes rather than dispelling them. Or maybe that was the point.
Sullivan’s writing is clear and unencumbered with fluff, just the way I like my prose. However, a few of the stories felt incomplete. As a lover of short stories, I also understand how difficult they are to write. Still, at least three of these stories ended in the middle of a scene or with an ellipsis, a clear indication that there might be more to the story. Not only is that frustrating for the reader, it’s also a sign that perhaps the writer wasn’t sure how to wrap things up. Interestingly, the two flash fiction pieces in this collection felt more complete than some of the longer stories. Go figure.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection, and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a short, fun, Black lesbian read. Sullivan is good, and while the erotica is probably her best work, I’d love to see her do more with speculative fiction and horror.
Reviewer: S. Andrea Allen
S. (Stephanie) Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.