If you’re not one for short story collections, FOR NIGHTS LIKE THIS ONE: STORIES OF LOVING WOMEN will change your mind. Becky Birtha’s affectionate stories featuring lesbians from all walks of life were touching, intelligent and insightful. Birtha knows how to keep the cohesiveness of the tales, while making each one fresh and distinctive.
The book is composed of 13 novellas all about lesbian love. Although the work was published in 1983, its simple themes still transcend to contemporary times. Sexual identity, same-sex parenting, race and and monogamy were issues Birtha addressed with candor and could be heard today in any lesbian relationship. Nothing she wrote seems outdated.
In the first story, two tripped out women get a rude awakening by a dude who detests their love in “It Was Over Then.” Lurie and Sabra discuss raising children in “Babies,” while Edna is intrigued by “Marissa,” the new radical black teacher at her workplace. “Next Saturday” finds a Julliard teacher pining away for her student, Kacey, who reminds her of her own coming out experience.
“A Sense of Loss” could be the most relatable story to black lesbians because its theme of hidden identity. The narrator, Liz, returns home to attend her grandmother’s funeral, where she feels out of place. No one knows she’s a lesbian (except her sister), and she feels like a hypocrite for not being herself around her own family. Liz has a lover back home, a woman she could never bring home to mama. But there was one person who always knew her heart: Grandma. It’s not until Liz is back home with her true family, her lover Mandy, that she can truly grieve her loss–her grandmother and her own isolation from her real family.
Julia and Gina think clothes make the lesbian in “Leftovers,” and Emily realizes nothing compares to being with the one you love in “A Monogamy Story.” Brownwyn holds onto a loved one’s ring for “Safekeeping.” Ellen doesn’t like her lover’s ex-girlfriend and her obtrusive presence in “A Four-Sided Figure,” while in the title story, a woman daydreams about a perfect lover–until she finds the real thing.
The last three tales deal with acceptance. Jessica let her pride keep her from loving “The Woman Who Loved Dancing”; black woman Francie has to accept whom she really is and the love of her white best friend; and Sojourner realizes no one knows her better than lover Sierra, not even herself.
Birtha’s connection with all these tales is one of true love and all the forms it takes between women. We have the capacity to love freely and compassionately and that resonates with these stories.
Birtha’s writing in For Nights Like This One was poetic yet simplistic in its traditional themes-every woman, black or white, could relate.
Reviewed October 2005