Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Review: "Almost Famous Women" by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Almost Famous Women Megan Mayhew Bergman
Published: January 6, 2015
ISBN: 9781476786568
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Library (3M Download
Recommended for readers looking for female-centric stories

The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader's imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.

My Thoughts:
This was somewhat of a weird read for me.  I think the premise of this collection is genius and I was quite excited about it.  Yet, I really felt that I would have enjoyed these stories--any of them--more if they were not in a collection.

I think my biggest problem was that there really isn't a different narrative voice between most of the stories (there are two that are exceptions).  Because it sounded like the same voice telling all of the stories with a similar theme, things started to just meld together for me.  Successful collections need to either have stories with varying themes or (or, possibly and) differing voices for each story.  Instead, this collection began to be a bit monotone for me.

That being said, I do like Bergman's writing style.  I think in a novel or in individual stories, she is or could be quite effective.  She was not overly verbose and she was able to capture the emotions of her characters in a way that the reader could understand them, but still keep them in the context of their setting.

As I mentioned above, there were two stories that sort of broke the mold in this collection.  One was "The Internees," which is a "short" short story told in the plural first person about the survivors from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  I was particularly taken with this story and consider it one of the best in the collection.  The other was "The Lottery, Redux," which is a "cover story" (Bergman's description) of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.  As a story it was interesting and a good read--but it just didn't fit in this collection and left me wondering why it was even included.

But, in the end, I might still recommend it.  I think, if one were to read this book, my suggestion would be to read it slowly--perhaps one story every couple of days or so.  The stories are good, even if the collection as a whole is a bit flat.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.  

Almost Famous Women: Stories
by Megan Mayhew Bergman

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