Author: Megan Mayhew Bergman
Rating: 4.5 stars
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
A few years a go, I meant to check out Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise, but it just kept slipping farther and farther down my TBR until I forgot it altogether. It’s something I’m going to have to revisit, because Almost Famous Women, Bergman’s second story collection, is so stunning and surprising that I just have to have more stories right now.
Almost Famous Women drew me in on many levels. First, there is that cover. Seriously, how gorgeous and intriguing is that? Next there was the idea. I am fascinated by “forgotten” histories, little quirky details and figures that don’t get attention in most history books, and of course I am also fascinated by strong women, and women’s history. Almost Famous Women had that in spades. Finally–and I mean this in all sincerety–the book was short. I’ve been reading so many weighty tomes lately, page counts seem to be getting longer and longer everywhere you turn, that it was a relief to breeze through less than 200 pages. (Never say print is dead because I’ve plodded through so many books this past year that were at least 100 pages longer than they needed to be).
There are thirteen stories in Almost Famous Women, some of them flash, others a little longer. The characters are all real women, though the stories are purely fiction. The reader is introduced to such figures as Joe Carstairs, a flamboyant speed boat racer, Norma Millay, sister of poet Norma St. Vincent Millay, Oscar Wilde’s niece Dolly, jazz musician Tiny Davis, Gone With the Wind actress Butterfly McQueen, and conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. For the most part, these unique women are seen through the eyes of other characters, lesser personalities drawn into their orbits. This was a choice I didn’t quite expect, but I liked very much.
The stories connect in surprising ways, with a thread of similar themes about addiction and PTSD threading through the collection, and some characters making little cameos in others’ stories. And despite being short, they are often quite poignant and powerful.
It’s not a perfect collection. There are a couple of stories that just don’t work for me, some stylistic choices that fell flat. But the joy of collections like this is that different stories will appeal to different readers. My favorites were “Expression Theory,” “The Siege at Whale Cay,” “Romaine Remains,” and “Hell-diving Women.” Yours may be different. But in any case, I highly recommend giving this collection a try.