Book Review: ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN

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“L’s imagination is back in Antibes. She bathes in the Baie des Anges and dances in the woods with unshowered, muscular girls in tunics, loose hair tumbling down their backs. They give nighttime shows, the flicker of oil lamps on their damp skin. Her muscles were firmer then. She spoke three languages. She was on the verge of something. Her thoughts were the color of moss and her head was teeming with them. The ideas were crawling all over her body like the fat worms she used to feed the rooster after the rain…” –Megan Mayhew Bergman, ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN

Publisher Synopsis

From the acclaimed author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, a dazzling new collection that explores the lives of unforgettable women in history.

The fascinating characters in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s new stories are defined by their creative impulses, fierce independence, and sometimes reckless decisions. In “The Siege at Whale Cay,” cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs seduces Marlene Dietrich. In “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch,” aviator and writer Beryl Markham lives alone in Nairobi and engages in a battle of wills with a stallion. In “Hell-Diving Women,” the first integrated, all-girl swing band sparks a violent reaction in North Carolina.

Other heroines, born in proximity to the spotlight, struggle to distinguish themselves: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talented sister, Norma; James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia.

Almost Famous Women offers and elegant and intimate look at artists who desired recognition. The world wasn’t always kind to the women who star in these stories, but through Mayhew Bergman’s stunning imagination, they receive the attention they deserve.

My Recommendation

Not since the arrangement of Sylvia Plath’s story collection, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, has an anthology so moved me. While the stories each stand on their own, there is a thread that connects them both thematically and, at times, literally. What is demonstrated over and over again in these long and short pieces are the heartbreaking consequences of the suppression of the powerful, wildish nature of women.

From conjoined twins, to poet’s sisters and orphans, to aged artists, Bergman writes with conviction and immediacy on the specific and morbidly fascinating issues facing her characters. The prose is potent, crisp, and full of energy; it demands you lean forward in your chair. And yet, when each story ends, the reader feels as if she wants more. She cannot stop looking over her shoulder, wondering what became of the historical figures who appear in brief and poignant succession.

I was pleased Bergman included an Author’s Note that explains where her interest in each woman began. It is full of pertinent back story and suggestions for further reading, which I will pursue.

If you enjoy short fiction about characters of high color, scandal, and individuality, I highly recommend ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN. It would be especially good for book clubs, because these fearless females beg to be discussed.

For more on the author and her upcoming events, here is her website: http://www.mayhewbergman.com/

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